- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

CLINTON, Miss. (AP) - A larger share of Mississippi third-graders passed the state’s reading test on the first try this year.

The Mississippi Department of Education said Thursday that 87 percent of 39,000 public school third-graders passed the 50 question computerized test given in late March or early April.

About 85 percent of third-graders passed on the initial attempt in 2015, the first year students were required to pass. Average test scores statewide increased slightly in 2016 compared with 2015. Students must reach a basic reading skill level, not national standards of proficiency.

“I think that speaks to the effort we’ve been putting forth,” state Superintendent Carey Wright said. “I don’t think there’s a district that’s not focusing on this.”

Nathan Oakley, who has overseen reading instruction efforts for the Mississippi Department of Education, said the state was pleased that scores rose in most schools where the state has been providing reading coaches and other teacher training.

About 5,000 students this year still need to pass to reach fourth grade. They’ve got two more chances, one next week before school ends and one after summer school beginning in late June. An additional 2,500 students passed in extra testing last year, leaving 3,400 who didn’t pass.

Not all of those repeated third grade. Some advanced using good-cause exemptions granted by local school districts. That includes students learning English for less than two years, students with significant cognitive disabilities, special education students who have had two or more years of intervention and already flunked once, or any student with two or more years of intervention who has failed twice. The state is still tallying how many of those exemptions were granted last year.

Last month, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law requiring students to score at a higher level to reach fourth grade starting in spring 2019. That means students now finishing kindergarten will have to meet the higher scoring standards. It’s unclear how many would have been in jeopardy of failing this year if the bar were set higher. However, scores from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of Colleges and Careers test given to Mississippi third-graders in 2015 suggest the number in danger of failing could be about 35 percent. The PARCC test was only given last spring, and Mississippi used a new test this year and must still set scoring expectations.

The Baldwyn district had the highest share of students passing the test, at greater than 95 percent. Some districts showed sharp improvements. Brookhaven saw first-time passing rates climb from 75 percent to 91 percent, and Okolona saw passing rates climb from 62 percent to 80 percent.

The Durant district had the lowest share of students passing the test, at 56 percent. Some districts saw significant declines. Jefferson Davis County saw passing rates skid from 84 percent to 69 percent.

Eight individual schools statewide saw all students pass.

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Online: Results by district and school: http://bit.ly/1TBsXuV

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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