ROSEDALE – Regular benchmark assessments, remediation and after school interventions — and popcorn and ice cream — have helped boost the third grade reading scores for West Bolivar Consolidated School District.

Larry Walker, interim superintendent for the West Bolivar Consolidated District, told the school board last week that district-wide third grade reading assessment scores rose to 89.7 percent. Walker noted the marked improvement from a 77.4 in spring 2016 and a 74 percent score in 2015.

The data the district collects is used to set benchmarks for each student, he told Mississippi Today in a telephone interview.

“We don’t allow data to sit there. We use it and allow it to help the kids,” said Walker. “We try not to test our kids out, but we do bi-weekly assessments to track the progress.”

Walker said the district targeted the students in need and had in-depth conversations with those students along with their parents.

“We also have committed teachers that roll up their sleeves and get to work,” said Walker.

Intense in-school remediation, reading programs, and in-school and out-of-school interventions helped students improve their testing scores, Walker said in the interview. Conducting benchmark assessment every nine weeks has helped too, said Walker.

One of the newest methods the district used this year was providing incentives for the students for their gains, said Walker. Students received treats like popcorn and ice-cream and out of school trips. Walker said they’ve taken the students roller skating and to The Main Event, an arcade and food center in Memphis.

The reading test is the gate to moving past third grade. If students don’t make super proficiency on the test and fail on the first try, they have two times to retest, said Walker. If students fail the retests, they must repeat the third grade.

(Update: At a board meeting Thursday it was reported that all students who took a re-test had passed.

“We are happy to announce that all 13 have passed,” said Walker.

West Bolivar Elementary School had six re-test, McEvans Elementary School had six re-testers, and Ray Brooks School had one re-tester.

The school board cheered the announcement.)

Overall, the district this spring tested 113 students with 13 students who have to retest, according to Walker. That data puts the district at a 89.7 percent passing rate.

He provided this school-by-school breakdown: McEvans Elementary School in Shaw had 39 students pass and six students fail, yielding an 86.7 percent passing rate. Ray Brooks School in Benoit had 17 students pass and one student fail, yielding a 94.5 percent passing rate. West Bolivar Elementary School in Rosedale had 57 students pass and six students fail, yielding a 90.5 percentage rate.

Walker provided these results from previous years:

Fiscal Year 2016: Overall 77.4 percent passing rate. McEvans Elementary School: 66 percent passing rate; Ray Brooks School: 62 percent passing rate; West Bolivar Elementary 89 percent passing rate.

Fiscal Year 2015: Overall 74 percent passing rate. McEvans Elementary School: 63 percent passing rate; Ray Brooks School: 70 percent passing rate; West Bolivar Elementary: 84 percent passing rate.

In the future, Walker said he doesn’t know if they’ll be content with the scores increasing. “I know children change,” said Walker. “The things you put in motion to assist and work this year may not work next year. We inspect what we expect.”

But, Walker said the district is proud of their students’ performances and they, in fact, celebrate that by posting the student’s names in the hallways and encouraging them to press forward.

“Kids love you to show them that attention,” said Walker. “You have to encourage them to keep up the good work.”

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.