Reading & Literacy

Holding 3rd Graders Back in Mississippi? No. Well, Maybe

By Catherine Gewertz — February 11, 2015 1 min read
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When Mississippi lawmakers decide whether they really want to retain 3rd graders who aren’t reading proficiently, they’ll let us know.

That’s the message of the “brief revolt,” as the Associated Press called it, that state representatives staged yesterday.

Led by Republicans, the lawmakers voted to hit the pause button on a law that keeps students in 3rd grade until they can show they can read at grade level. That 2013 law, the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, was scheduled to take effect this school year.

A big wave of Democrats joined some Republicans to approve the one-year delay. But by the end of the day, the so-called revolt was looking more like a momentary hesitation. The Clarion Ledger reports that so many Republicans wanted to change their votes that the measure is likely to come up again.

Democratic Rep. Lataisha Jackson proposed the delay because she doesn’t think it’s fair to punish students for the state’s failure to invest in putting enough K-3 reading coaches in Mississippi schools.

That point of view apparently garnered enough support to pick up steam, but then the unraveling began. House Education Committee chairman John L. Moore worried that a delay in the retention requirement would allow children to slip through the cracks and be hobbled by weak skills for the rest of their school years.

“My question to the House is: how long do we wait?” Moore asked, according to the AP. “When a child is leaving the third grade and going to fourth grade and cannot read, they are forever doomed.”

Gov. Phil Bryant pulled no punches in reacting to the vote to delay the reading gate.

“It is disappointing that 62 members of the House of Representatives would vote to socially promote children who cannot read,” he said in a statement. “With votes like this, it is little wonder that Mississippi’s public education system has been an abysmal failure.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.