- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Performance among Mississippi schools and school districts varied widely on the state’s third-grade reading test.

All third-graders passed in two districts - Pearl River County and Clay County - and 11 schools statewide. Fewer than half of third-graders passed at one school in Greenville and two in Holmes County. Overall, 14 of Mississippi’s 146 public school districts saw 30 percent or more of third-graders fail, while 19 districts saw 93 percent or more pass.

Results released Friday showed that 5,600 students, or 15 percent, failed statewide. Passing statewide were 32,200, or 85 percent. Those who failed get two more chances to pass the 50-question computerized test, one this month and one during the summer. Students must reach a basic level of reading skill, not national proficiency standards.

Students who have been learning English for fewer than two years are eligible for exemptions, as are some special education students and any student who has already failed a grade twice and has had two years of extra help. Those who don’t pass must repeat third grade while receiving intensive tutoring.

Many parents may not get results until next week. State officials said late Friday that heavy online computer traffic overwhelmed Renaissance Learning, the contractor that provides the test, and some school districts couldn’t download reports.

Every parent in the Pearl River County district, though, knows their child passed. Superintendent Alan Lumpkin attributed the passing scores of each of his district’s 210 third-graders to an early effort to identify those with weaknesses and tutor them.

“There’s no real secret,” Lumpkin said. “It was a lot of hard work and a focused effort by our students, our teachers and our parents.”

In the Nettleton district, not usually noted for high academic achievement, all but two of 89 third-graders passed. Superintendent Michael Cates said the district provided extra tutoring to students two and three times a week.

“This is just a minimum standard, but this is a benchmark we were hoping to reach,” Cates said.

There’s much more work to be done in a district like Greenville, where only 63 percent of students passed. Superintendent Leeson Taylor said that some schools in Greenville had “major glitches” with computers during the test in April, which might have contributed to failing scores. He said some children may have been unfamiliar with taking tests on a computer.

“There are going to be some that are going to get over the hump in the next two weeks,” Leeson said. “There are going to be some who have to come back for the summer. And there are going to be some that even the summer won’t help.”

Taylor said Greenville will have mandatory summer school for students in grades K-3. He said the district canceled high school summer programs to afford it.

Superintendent Powell Rucker attributed Holmes County’s 59 percent passing rate to student poverty, lack of funding and rapid teacher turnover. State reading coaches were at two district schools, including Goodman Pickens Elementary, which had a state-worst 59 percent failure rate.

The state provided coaches to 78 low-performing schools that included third grade this year. Of those, 65 scored below the state passing average.

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Online: Mississippi third-grade reading test results for schools and districts: https://bit.ly/1Ks0VP6

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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