Posted 5/28/2015, updated 5/16/2016, 5/24/2017
The Literacy-based Promotion Act, also known as the “third-grade gate,” was passed by lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Bryant during the 2013 Legislative session. The bill requires screening of all K-3rd grade students to identify reading deficiencies and requires that districts provide intensive reading instruction for those students who have deficiencies. The bill requires that students be retained if deficiencies are not resolved by end of the third grade, with only a few good-cause exemptions.
The Parents’ Campaign opposed the final iteration of the Literacy-based Promotion Act because the woefully inadequate appropriation ($15-million) for the bill amounted to an underfunded mandate for school districts that have already been underfunded for years. The bill also left out important provisions that were included in the Florida bill after which it was modeled (specifically, good-cause exemptions for special education students and students who demonstrate proficiency based on a portfolio of coursework).
The new law took effect in the 2014-2015 school year, and many parents and educators were alarmed that a single high-stakes test that had never been administered before would be the sole determinate of whether Mississippi students passed or failed third grade.
During the 2015 Legislative Session, lawmakers attempted to amend the law to allow one “hold harmless” year for third graders while students and teachers adjusted to the new testing and reading requirements. The bill said that, for 2014-2015 school year only, low-scoring students may be allowed to progress to the fourth grade but must be given the intensive interventions they need to become proficient readers. While a majority of House members supported the bill, strong opposition from the Governor’s office and Senate leadership killed the effort.
The Mississippi Legislature in 2016 amended the Literacy-based Promotion Act to provide that, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan who have received either intensive remediation for more than two years or who were previously retained for one year can now qualify for a good cause exemption.
The law also was amended to require, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, a score above the lowest two achievement levels on the state reading assessment in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. Annual funding for literacy has not increased since the act was passed in 2013. In anticipation of a much higher standard for passage, it is critical that lawmakers devote sufficient funding to implement interventions in every school that will allow our students to achieve at the level required for promotion to fourth grade.