By Bill Crawford
Transformational change” said Gov. Phil Bryant, thanking the Legislature for enacting key elements of his “Education Works” agenda. “I thank the Legislature for working with me to raise the bar for public education and create transformational change for our children,” he said.
“Half-hearted” said the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, describing Bryant’s “Third Grade Gate” literacy measure as passed by the Legislature, one of the key elements in Education Works. “The third-gate idea has proven merit, but a half-hearted effort won’t get the job done,” the newspaper said.
Bryant says his Third Grade Gate program will improve literacy achievement by “ending social promotion of third grade students who are not reading on grade level.”
He said the program provides resources to schools to screen students’ literacy skills and provide those who are struggling with additional reading help. K-3 teachers and administrators will participate in training on best practices for reading instruction.
The newspaper says the Legislature weakened the program by making screening tests voluntary, underfunding the program, and leaving out reading coaches.
As originally written, Senate Bill 2347 required literacy screening at the beginning of each school year for kindergarten through third grade students. For students identified with reading deficiencies, schools would have had to provide intensive intervention.
As finally adopted, the bill makes annual screening optional, giving schools a loophole to avoid intervention activities until students complete third grade. At that time, schools may not socially promote students who read below grade level but must retain them in the third grade and, finally, provide them extensive levels of intervention, such as small group instruction and tutoring.
Citing former State Superintendent Tom Burnham, the newspaper wrote, “students should be measured each year and those who are behind should get additional days of instruction. ‘If you don’t do it that way and you just build a wall at the end of third grade, you are going to have another crisis in education.’”
To implement this comprehensive statewide program, the Legislature provided $9.5 million. “Woefully inadequate,” the newspaper quotes Nancy Loome, Parents’ Campaign executive director.
Bryant’s Third Grade Gate copies Florida’s highly successful program. But Florida required annual screening, committed substantial resources for intervention, and included reading coaches in its program.
“Reading proficiency is the foundation for all education progress, and many public school supporters believed that using the Florida model, which achieved substantial results, could become effective in Mississippi,” said the newspaper. “Florida made a full commitment, and Mississippi must match that vigor.”
The newspaper called for Bryant to correct program deficiencies by adding it to his likely call for a special session on Medicaid. Agreed.
Transformation does not come from half-hearted efforts.
(Shhhh. The bill still allows social promotion for third-graders retained two years who don’t succeed in reading.)
BILL CRAWFORD (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.