Jefferson County third grade teacher Yashica Suddeth is working with students this summer to help them pass a reading test. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Just over 75% of Mississippi third-graders passed the “third grade reading gate” test on their first try, a rate that is higher than pre-pandemic levels

The results of the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program third grade ELA exam were presented at the Thursday meeting of the State Board of Education. 

The Mississippi Legislature created the Literacy-Based Promotion Act in 2013, which requires all third-graders to pass a reading test before moving up to the fourth grade. Students must score a three or higher out of five on the test to be promoted, which indicates they are competent in skills such as identifying main ideas, paraphrasing texts, understanding figurative language, and using root words, prefixes and suffixes to change word meanings. 

The initial passing rate has hovered around 75% since the Legislature raised the passing threshold from a two to a three on the exam

Department officials expressed satisfaction with the results, particularly as they surpassed previous years. 

“You can see my smile,” said Kristen Wynn, state literacy director. “Our students and our teachers exceeded pre-pandemic results. In 2019, we got those results that put us number one in growth for NAEP and now we’ve surpassed that in 2023 … For us I feel like the sky is the limit.” 

The 7,500 students who did not pass had the opportunity to retest May 8-12 and will have the opportunity again June 19-30. Many districts host summer reading programs to prep students for their retests. For these, the education department recommends developing individualized plans for targeting students areas of need, partnering with local community organizations, and working with the department’s 52 literacy coaches. 

The State Board of Education also voted to approve spending $2.7 million in grants to local school districts to fund their summer reading camps as part of the effort to improve performance on the gate test. The 13 districts receiving the grants were selected for several reasons, including status as a literacy support district, having a flexible school calendar, school improvement status and reading proficiency scores. The districts selected had varying passing rates on this year’s test, ranging from 38-80%. 

Last year, an additional 3,500 students passed on the retests, raising the passing rate to 85%, and 3,900 were promoted with “good cause exemptions,” such as passing an alternate assessment during the retest periods, having disabilities, or having been previously held back. 

“I applaud the teachers, administrators, literacy coaches and families who worked to support students in achieving this goal,” Interim State Superintendent Mike Kent said in a statement. “The work will continue until all students are proficient and showing growth.” 

View initial passing rates for individual schools and districts here

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.