Following one city leader's inquiry regarding why so many Yazoo City third-graders failed to pass the required state reading assessment, Assistant Superintendent Lucille Lovette said Thursday that many children are already behind when they enter kindergarten.
Yazoo City's third-graders lagged far behind Yazoo County's third-graders. Overall, third-graders in the Yazoo County School District posted an 82 percent pass and an 18 percent fail. By county schools, Linwood Elementary students garnered a 92 percent pass and an eight percent fail, and Bentonia-Gibbs Elementary School's third-graders landed a 76 percent pass and a 24 percent fail.
With all city third-graders attending McCoy Elementary School, they managed a 53 percent pass and a 47 percent fail.
That the county's third-graders left the city's third-graders lagging far behind was an embarrassment to Yazoo City Alderman Aubry Brent Jr.
“It's a dishonor to Mrs. (Jevonne) McCoy (for whom the school is named) for her school to come in as low as it did on those tests...,” Brent said, as he addressed the school board Thursday. “It breaks my heart when I read about the surrounding schools outperforming us on the Literacy-Based Promotion Exam. When we were in school, we didn't let (Bentonia) Gibbs (Elementary School) or Linwood (Elementary School,) beat us at anything, athletically or academically. We had that kind of pride, and our teachers and coaches had that kind of pride.”
Brent said the problem isn't solely with third-grade instruction. Many students are behind academically before they reach the third grade.
“What are we going to do if these (failing) kids can't pass this test with the new crop of second-graders coming on?” Brent continued. “You're going to have overcrowded classrooms, and where are the teachers going to come from to deal with these kids?
“I cannot get the 47 percent failure rate out of my head when I consider the salaries paid to our educational leaders and the money paid to outside consultants to assist us with our children's reading skills.”
City school board President John Wallace said, “This board is just as devastated with those scores as anybody in this room. We believe that these children can succeed, and we believe that they will succeed if you'll just give us the opportunity.”
Wallace said changes can't be made overnight, but “this ship has turned around and you're going to see a lot of changes between now and school starting up again. We will not sit idly and let these children fail. You have my word and you have this board's word.”
Lovette said it's important that the school district institute a pre-kindergarten program.
“We must address (third-graders' achievement) not only in grades K through two, but we must start in kindergarten and pre-K,” she said. “This year, we are looking for the additional funds so we can fund a pre-K starting (the 2015-2016) school term.”
Lovette also said that when kindergarten students started to school this year, “They were already 100 to 200 points behind. That means when they are starting kindergarten, they are already behind. That's why it's so important for us to have our very own pre-K program.”
When the third-graders were tested last August, only 39 out of a class of 235 were on grade level.
“In addition to praying, we worked night and day because we knew our work was cut out,” she said. “That meant that those children who had (come) through grades K, one and grade two were not ready for grade three.”
Lovette said with retesting beginning this week, school officials are looking for at least 70 percent of the third-graders to pass the reading assessment.
“For those students who will not pass, we have set up two three-week summer camps,” she said. “The first camp will begin June 10 and continue until June 27. They can test again June 27. If they don't pass again, we are asking our employees to come back again in July for three weeks.”
Lovette said the biggest problem hindering the success of the summer camps is parents who fail to get their children to school.
“We've tutored all year and we can't get them to stay after school,” she said. “What we need help (with) is once you get them to school, please get them (to school) on time and allow them to stay in school with us for the day. We have too many absent and too many of them are at home. When they are not in school, we can't teach them.”