Little Blacks can’t read: More than half of MSCS second graders at risk for retention under reading policy

[This is an email that was doing the rounds among White Americans. The comment below about Little Niggers, was written by one of the Americans. Jan]

Little Niggers can’t read!

More than half of MSCS second graders at risk for retention under reading policy
By Laura Testino
Memphis Commercial Appeal

More than half of all second graders who attend Memphis-Shelby County Schools finished the recent school year at risk of being retained and not promoted to the third grade under a new policy aimed at increasing literacy skills for students.

Of the 8,153 second graders in the district, 4,545 students, or 56%, are not reading at the grade-level metrics the district requires, MSCS said in a press release issued late Friday afternoon.

Most of those 4,545 MSCS students are attending classes this summer, making up about a third of the 12,000 students registered to attend. So long as the second graders attend 90% of the camp, they likely can go to the third grade next year. Whether the students will need to participate in additional interventions will depend on their final grade in reading.

More:MSCS could require hundreds of second graders to attend summer school. Here’s why

Called the Third Grade Commitment, the district approved the policy in 2019 and has lowered some of the requirements this school year, a review of documents shows.

Last year’s second graders were the first class of students to be impacted. The policy for the district’s second graders mirrors a statewide reading intervention and retention policy for all third graders in Tennessee, which will take effect next year.

At least 481 second graders could be held back

MSCS said Friday they weren’t able to get 481 of second graders who didn’t meet the requirements of the policy signed up for summer classes, which began June 13 and ends July 15.

"We want, no we need, the community’s help in getting these recent second-graders in class Monday morning,” MSCS Superintendent Joris Ray said in the press release issued late Friday.

MSCS was not able to offer an explanation in time for the publication of this story for how the students, if they entered the summer programming two weeks late, would be able to achieve a 90% attendance rate. The district says it intends to supply responses on Monday.

"Our school leaders have reached out multiple times–through phone calls, emails, teacher notes, and text messages–to the families of students whom we know need extra interventions,” Jaron Carson, chief academic officer, said in a statement. 

“We are committed to ensuring that all students can read before they enter third grade," Carson continued, "which is why we offered before, during, and after school tutoring this school year and are now offering additional interventions through our Summer Learning Academy.”

More:Tennessee student reading scores ‘largely back to pre-pandemic levels,’ state data shows

The new statistics provide one of the first looks into how the district’s own policy and an incoming state law impacting third graders headed to fourth grade could impact students and their districts, which will be expected to offer more tutoring or summer learning resources to students and manage staffing for any swell of students who are held back.

Recently released statewide test scores show the number of students on grade level has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but that still leaves 65% of students not on grade level, and results for third graders show the share of students farthest behind in reading is higher than 2019, before the pandemic.

District lowered requirements of third grade policy

Mirroring a statewide third-grade retention law set to take effect this upcoming school year, the district policy requires second-grade students to score 8 points on a 12-point scale meant to assess literacy milestones.

In creating its own policy for second graders, the district has mirrored much of the state’s policy for third graders, which also offers students tutoring and testing options as alternatives to retention. Students already head back are exempt from third grade retention.

For MSCS’ policy for second graders, report card grades and quarterly assessments earn a student points on the criteria. Any student scoring proficient on the state TCAP test for reading at the end of the year will move to third grade, no matter how they scored on other criteria.

Part of the criteria is median Lexile scores, where higher numbers are associated with better literacy. The district lowered the requirements at some point this school year.

A document available in early March, and still accessible online, showed Lexile scores of 60 to 65 points higher than the requirements listed by the end of the school year. That changed the highest Lexile score required from 485 to 425. A student achieving that score by the end of the school year would earn three points toward the eight needed, instead of just one.

The district said Saturday it would not be able to provide a response to an inquiry about the change until Monday.

Students who don’t score at least eight points aren’t automatically held back. Instead, there are two paths: One for students with final reading grades at 70% or higher and the other for students who had a final grade below 70%.

For either path, as long as students attend the required amount of summer classes, they will move to third grade. Depending on how much tests show they learned during the summer classes, they may have required tutoring in third grade.

Second-grade students will be only be held back if they don’t earn eight points on the criteria and fail to go to summer school.

District implemented policy to improve reading rates, academic achievement for students

The policy is meant to improve reading performance for some of the district’s youngest students, in the years when researchers say learning to read matters most. In explaining the impacts of the policy, district and school leaders have described a cycle they say begins with low literacy and can end in missing out on high school graduation, incarceration and poverty.

In recent years before the pandemic, about a quarter of the district’s third-graders were reading on grade level. That fell to 14% last year, with even fewer of the district’s economically disadvantaged and English language learning students reading on track, far from a 2025 goal of 90%. The district has revised the goal to 74% of students reading on track before they go to middle school by 2030.

Schools invited families of second graders to virtual and in-person meetings in January and shared with families about how their child was doing so far. Purposeful, one-on-one communication was paramount in making the most of the policy and bringing students back up to speed, board member Stephanie Love told the district in February.

"I don’t have the data, but I’m willing to bet a lot of students who are not on grade level are also students who either have chronic absenteeism issues or truancy issues. And we have a hard time reaching those parents," Love said. "So how are we going to reach parents that we haven’t been able to reach to even bring their children to school, to get them to participate in some way that’s going to be beneficial?"

Former board member Shante Avant and current board chair Michelle McKissack also pushed the district at the time to be as proactive as possible in talking with families about what could be required of their second graders.

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