Ninety two percent of 3rd graders passed the reading test required for promotion to the 4th grade, the Mississippi Department of Education announced Thursday.

Last year’s pass rate for first-time test takers was 87 percent. Students who do not pass are given two more attempts before being held back for a year.

This school year marks the first time the Mississippi Assessment Program’s English Language Arts test was used for promotion of 3rd graders. In prior years the state used a test made by Renaissance Learning.

The Literacy-Based Promotion Act, passed in 2013, requires 3rd graders to pass a reading assessment to demonstrate they are ready for the 4th grade. However, current law only requires a student to score a Level 2 out of five possible levels, which State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright called a “low bar.”

Beginning in the 2018 school year, 3rd graders will be required to score a Level 3 to continue to 4th grade.

“We believe this pass rate is a result of the full implementation of the Mississippi (College and Career Ready) standards and having a test aligned with those standards,” Paula Vanderford, chief of research and development at the Mississippi Department of Education, told State Board of Education members Thursday.

Kim Benton, chief academic officer, echoed Vanderford.

“I’ve never seen in my years as an educator so many different people coalescing around this — community centers, faith-based organizations,” she said. “We have a lot to celebrate today as we are thinking ahead for next year and continue to increase rigor and expectations.”

Benton says the department in the future will focus on continuing to train teachers, working with the Institutions of Higher Learning to make sure new teachers come in with the necessary skills to teach literacy, and adding extra resources for students in particular groups such as English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Those who did not pass will have two more chances to take the test.

See the results for all schools and districts here.

The top 10 highest performing school districts, all with pass rates higher than 95 percent, are:

Aberdeen School District (100 percent pass rate)

Union County School District

Choctaw County School District

Houston School District

Western Line School District

Union Public School District

Webster County School District

Newton County School District

Ocean Springs School District

Stone County School District

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.