7/24/2013 6:00:00 AM New law requires third graders to read at basic level
By CONOR BELL
All third-grade students must read at the basic level by the end of the upcoming school session or face failure under Gov. Phil Bryant's "Education Works" legislation signed into law earlier this year.
The legislation included four bills that created charter schools, gave incentives to Mississippi students who pledge to teach in-state, targeted the literacy of third-graders and helped struggling school districts find new solutions.
State education officials said this week they will hire 24 reading coaches and coordinators for the coming school year, falling far short of their goal of 75.
Gov. Bryant's "Third Grade Gate" measure aims to improve literacy achievement by ending social promotions of third-grade students who are not reading on grade level.
The measure allocates resources to schools to screen students' literacy skills and provide those who are struggling with additional reading help, including the assistance of trained reading coaches. K-3 teachers and administrators will participate in training on best practices for reading instruction.
Philadelphia Public School District Superintendent Terry Larabee said administrators in his district are assessing what is being done in reading in kindergarten through second grade.
Teachers and administrators can better prepare students in these grades before they reach the third grade, he said.
State tests show that nearly half of all third graders are not proficient in reading based on state testing.
"We also know that lack of reading ability increases a student's likelihood of dropping out and increases the likelihood he or she will need public assistance," Gov. Bryant said in signing the legislation into law. "There are children in Mississippi schools right now who are struggling with reading. This legislation will help identify those students' reading deficiencies as early as kindergarten, and teachers will be able to help now, well before third grade. This literacy legislation is transformational because helping a struggling child learn to read will truly change his or her life-the most important thing we can do."
Another aspect of the Bryant's education reform requires school districts with graduation rates below 80 percent to submit a restructuring plan to the Mississippi Department of Education.
Neshoba County School District Assistant Superintendent Trina Cheatham said dropout prevention is key.
"Last year, we had the Teachers for Mentors program to train teachers for characteristics of dropout students like attendance, discipline referrals and students that have been retained a year or two," Cheatham said. "We can identify these kids earlier and better by looking at these characteristics. Then, we can start giving intervention."
Among other parts of "Education Works" is a piloted program where a monetary reward system based on student performance is set up for teachers.
"Of course, paying teachers more money will continue to be a priority, and the information learned from this pilot will provide valuable data as to how we can effectively pay good teachers more money," Governor Bryant said.
The new law creates scholarships for students who plan to become teachers, have a 3.5 GPA and an ACT score of 28, and will commit to becoming an educator in Mississippi's public schools for five years.
Two-hundred scholarships have been endowed for these students. The legislation also offers an additional $6,000 stipend for the students who agree to teach in critical needs areas.
The new education reform also includes the creation of charter schools in school districts that are considered "low performing" and "failing," funds for training dyslexia educators, money for National Board Certifications, and many other programs that are to improve the education system in Mississippi.