Politicians are expected to give a rosy picture during their executive addresses. And especially when it’s their final one before leaving office, as it was for Gov. Phil Bryant Tuesday, then the speech is a way to frame the discussion about their legacy.
On education, Bryant made some good points about positive developments, including now having the fourth-most National Board Certified Teachers in the nation and improving learning at daycares by training the workers at community colleges.
Yet he gave misinformation about one of the most important indicators of academic and life success: how many third-graders are reading well.
Bryant said during his televised speech to the Legislature that the third-grade gate passed in 2013 will be remembered as the “single most successful reform to public education in Mississippi history.” Bryant said in 2011 only 54 percent of Mississippi third graders were reading with proficiency but that has increased to 93 percent.
What he got wrong, though, is the bill’s intent — which was to “require reading proficiency by the third grade,” in Bryant’s words — ended up much different than its implementation. What really happened is the state, realizing that it didn’t have the capacity to handle holding back the huge numbers of third graders who couldn’t read well enough, set the reading requirements so low that nearly everyone passes.
It’s not true by the state’s own standards that 93 percent of Mississippi third graders are reading “proficiently.” The state rates third graders on a 1 to 5 scale going from “Minimal” to “Basic” to “Passing” to “Proficient” to “Advanced.” So the only students who would be deemed “proficient” are those who made a 4 or 5. What percentage of third graders did that last year? 45 percent. Only 75 percent “passed,” that is made a Level 3, yet they still slid through the third-grade because it only required a 2. The state’s definition for that 2 score says those students “may experience difficulty in the next grade.”
It’s laughable to call that the greatest educational policy in state history. Its impact has been minimal at best thus far.
To its credit, the Legislature amended the law so that starting this year third-graders will have to make a Level 3 to pass. If that standard had been in place last year, one in four students would have been held back. We will see if the state has the will to follow through with that threat. It should.
For years Mississippi has manipulated the numbers to make its schools appear better academically than they really are. That serves the politicians and administrators well but not the students, parents, employers or taxpayers. Truth be told, our education system remains at the bottom. Until it truly improves, the state will stay there as well. Accurately reporting education results is a first step toward moving up.