PEARL RIVER COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Elementary schools across Mississippi are trying to figure out how to help third graders who failed the new state reading test. Statewide, about 5,600 third graders didn't make the grade. Those who failed will get two more chances to pass the test, one later this month and another during the summer.
One South Mississippi school won't have to worry about retesting. That's because all the third graders at the school passed, and they are getting ready to celebrate.
"Do y'all know what I have in my hand," Pearl River Central Upper Elementary Principal Darlene Hall asked a class of third graders Monday.
She announced that she was handing out each child's score from the state's first reading test.
"Are you ready to take them home to show your mom and dad," she asked.
"Yes," the students shouted.
Hall experienced that same excitement last Friday when she announced that every third grader at her school, more than 200 students in all, performed better than the 926 passing score.
"She told us we were 100 percent. At first, we were just stuck. When reality hit, we were in shock. We all started jumping up and down and screaming," said reading teacher Rachelle Holston.
"We all celebrated, jumped up and down, yelled, hi-fived, tears of joy," said Hall.
The teachers felt confident that their students would score well. That's because the school came up with a game plan that focused on struggling readers.
One strategy was "Target Time." They studied each child's test data, then set aside 30 minutes every morning for teachers, tutors and other staff members to work on the students' weaknesses in small groups.
"Every day, we worked on certain skills, and I think that's what did it. We did things inside the classroom, but shutting down our classrooms for 30 minutes every day made a big difference," said Holston.
Last year, some school administrators and teachers took literacy training courses, provided by the Mississippi Department of Education, so they could learn how to better help young readers who are falling behind.
Right before the big test in April, the school held pep rallies, wrote letters of encouragement and got parents involved in cheering their children on. The students also realized they had to pass the test in order to move on to the fourth grade.
"I feel very proud about myself and my classmates, because they all worked very hard," said third grader Jace Gower. "I was really excited for everybody that they're going to the fourth grade, and I was jumping up screaming."
"I am overjoyed. It's overwhelming. It's wonderful. It's the best year yet," said Holston.
To celebrate their achievements, the school will hold a "Fun Day" this Friday for all the third graders. Pearl River County and Clay County were the only two districts with a 100 percent passing rate.
"My heart's just full of pride that they were able to do this, that we were able to support them. They showed up and took the test and just proud of them, very proud," said Hall.
The school received a $35,000 MDE grant to hold a summer literacy camp for students who fail the test and for struggling readers. Since that is no longer needed, the camp will now be for second graders who need to improve their literacy skills.