Thousands of 3rd Graders Held Back a Year for Failing One 2 Hour Test

This is a subject that I have mixed feelings about and am not sure which side of the story I’m really on.

Two years ago, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed a bill into law that requires all third graders throughout the state to pass a two hour reading proficiency test in order to move on to the fourth grade. At the time, reading skills were sorely lacking in thousands of children in the state and the goal was to at least bring them up to a certain level of competency before compounding the problem in upper grades.

On the surface, it seems like a good law designed for the best interest of students and in that sense I would wholly support such a measure. I’ve seen far too many kids coming out of school that can hardly read, write or do any kind of basic math. In those cases, I believe that both the schools and parents have failed the kids and should have held them back in school until they could show some degree of competency in the basic educational skills.

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However, the law does not provide the means for many Mississippi schools to properly teach their young students. A librarian at one school said:

“The children have to have books to read, so that’s what I have to do. I have book glue, I have tape. I can get two or three more years out of them before I have to order some more.”

Many of these schools don’t have money to keep buying books for their libraries. Without enough usable books, it’s difficult to put one in the hands of every student. Mississippi has traditionally been one of the states with the lowest funding of public schools in the nation. In some instances, one school has very limited funding and resources while another school only 30 miles away has more funding and sufficient resources.

That may be one issue that needs to be resolved, but another is whether or not one two hour test is sufficient grounds for holding back a student. Take the case of 9 year old Zanysha Amos. She goes home every day and does her homework and studies. She makes As and Bs in school yet the state reading test had her so anxious that she had difficulty eating and sleeping in the weeks before she took it. The young girl was so worried that if she didn’t perform well enough on this one test that she would be held back and forced to repeat third grade all over again.

Her mother Ztearreyo Amos, an assistant teacher at the Zanysha’s school shared:

“She told me, if she was studying and doing good work during the school year, then she shouldn’t have to pass a test to go to the next grade.”

Here is how the state reading test is done. Students sat down in front of a computer for the two hour test in April. On May 7, the State Board of Education determined what a passing score would be. They then sent out notices to the 5,612 third graders statewide that failed the test. That’s a failure rate of 14.8%.

Students who failed were then given a second chance to pass the test from May 18 through 22. The computer notified them immediately if they passed or failed. Students who failed the second test were then scheduled for summer school beginning in June and will be given a third test sometime in late June or early July. If they fail the third test, they will be held back and forced to repeat the third grade again next year.

Final numbers of how many will repeat the 3rd grade won’t be available until after the summer session, but many estimates place the number around 3,000.

Like I said earlier, on the surface the program sounds good, but is it fair to penalize a student who does good work all year long because they have a problem with just one standardized test? What do you think it would do to a young child like Zanysha who is a good student but ends up failing this one test and is forced to repeat third grade all over again? It would be devastating and possibly ruin their lives forever. It would show them that hard work and studying doesn’t matter and they could take that lesson with them throughout the rest of their lives. That one two hour test could make the difference between some young person growing up to be a great doctor, teacher or business person to ending up on welfare.

I was always a good student who pulled good grades. However, I was a slow reader with exceptionally high retention of what I read. I had taken speed reading courses and while they helped a little, I’m still slower than average, but I retain far more than the average person does. Knowing that, I would have been as frightened as Zanysha was prior to taking this one test. Would I have been able to read fast enough for the standardized test? How many third graders are like me who could possibly fail not because they can’t read, but only because they don’t read as fast as someone else wants them to, even though they retain a lot of what they read? I know that I would have been devastated if it had happened to me and I most likely would not have had the life that I have had.

While I agree with the principle behind the testing, I believe that it needs a lot more planning and revamping before they ruin the lives of thousands more young kids.

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