Is repeating third grade — again and again — good for kids? A state makes students repeat third grade, sometimes more than once, to help them learn to read
Thousands of Mississippi’s third graders will sit in front of computers later this month to take the statewide reading test, but the eyes of teachers and administrators at Finch Elementary School will be intensely focused on a dozen students at this Wilkinson County school.
These 12 students are among about 2,300 across the state who were held back in third grade this school year — out of 39,000 third graders who took the test — because they were unable to pass the statewide standardized reading test last year. Efforts to push students like these 2,300 into literacy represent the central thrust of Mississippi’s controversial Literacy-Based Promotion Act, the Third Grade Gate.
Legislation signed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant four years ago mandated both that schools hold back students who can’t pass the reading proficiency test and that schools take measures to make sure students get additional services when they are held back. At Finch, those measures took the form of one-on-one instruction, tutoring, daily monitoring, a new third-grade teacher and smaller third-grade classes.
But kids who repeated third grade still have a hurdle to overcome before they move on to fourth grade. The law says that when third graders sit to take the test again — scheduled throughout the state April 17 to 25 — those youngsters who were held back last year can be held back a second time if they can’t pass the test this go-round. That shouldn’t happen if there is any value to Bryant’s idea that holding students back for a year and giving them extra help will improve their literacy — Bryant has said he benefitted greatly when he had to repeat third grade. If many of those students fail a second time, however, the state’s new initiative could be a huge waste of money.