Maybe it’s time for a change

By TIM BEELAND,

The only thing constant is change. — Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 500 BC).

The only thing constant concerning the Third Grade Gate reading test is change. — Tim Beeland (c. 2019 AD)

We hear from politicians all the time that the media — the national media that is — twists the truth to make things look the way they want. We’ve heard that a lot under our current president and I expect we’ll continue hearing it as long as he is in office. It may, perhaps, be the norm for the rest of our lives. We’ll see.

On the home front, though, the truth twisting this past week was coming from a different side. It was coming from the Mississippi Department of Education, and our well-paid state superintendent, Dr. Carey Wright, concerning the results of this year’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act testing — more commonly refered to as the Third Grade Gate reading test — that were released to the public last Wednesday. This is the reading test that the kiddos must pass to leave the third grade and head on to the fourth.

“Majority of 3rd Graders Meet Higher Standard to Pass Reading Test,” is how the press release from Wright’s office was headlined. That is true, but when you untwist that tale the truth is that 25+ percent — just over a quarter of Mississippi third graders — failed that test. The exact number of students subject to being retained is 8,941.

Of course they get two more chances to pass, and there will be some students  that failed the test but will meet the  “good cause” exemption requirements that will allow them to pass on to fourth grade automatically. Those exemptions apply to certain students with disabilities, students learning English or students who have been previously retained. Still, on the first try 25 percent didn’t make the cut.

That’s why you are reading here today that there will be change. And, that, my friends, in itself is the problem. Change is the problem. The bar never stays the same. Ever since Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi Legislature installed this gate the bar has moved.

When the reading assessment was first implemented there was no bar. The State Department of Education waited to see what the scores were before setting the passing grade. They  figured out how many kids they wanted to pass and that’s where they set the bar.

Then they changed it.

Last year 93.2 percent of 3rd graders passed the test at a lower bar than this year and the State Department bragged then that “the initial pass rate has increased every year since the test was first administered, rising from 85 percent in 2015, to 87 percent in 2016,  to 92 percent in 2017.”

One can clearly see that with the higher bar this year, Level 3 rather than Level 2, those previous results were rather skewed. For the record, those numbered bars one, two, three four, basically are the reading level students are on. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade.

Ideally a student leaving third grade and heading into fourth grade would be at the fourth grade level — ready for fourth grade. Obviously we don’t live in an ideal world so I suppose that’s why the powers that be thought it was a good idea to make a second grade level good enough for a fourth grade level, and then a third grade level good enough for a fourth grade level, and they will, I assure you, change it up again. Soon.

Those powers have proven over and over again that when it comes to school testing that if they don’t like what they see they’ll change it to something else. That fact, we know, is a constant! May not be right, but it’s a constant!

Read. This. Sentence. Slowly. We will never be able to truly measure whether or not our schools are making advancements in educating our children until we stop changing the means by which we measure those advancements. — Tim Beeland (May 29, 2019)

Superintendent Wright makes over $300,000 a year. That’s a lot of money. I suppose if she’s worth being paid the highest superintendent’s salary in the nation, somebody, somewhere, thinks she knows what she’s doing.

As for me, I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s time for a change.