97 percent of East Webster third graders pass Mississippi reading test

MATHISTON, Miss. (WCBI) – While third grade reading test scores across Mississippi are approaching pre-pandemic numbers, some schools are exceeding them.

Third graders at East Webster Elementary received a 97 percent pass rate for the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program.

“Coming into third grade, students are already really scared of third grade because they know they have a gate test they have to pass,” says East Webster teacher Bridgette Hodges.

2021-2022 was the first year Hodges taught third grade reading at East Webster Elementary, preparing the students for the MAAP.

“Comprehension is the main thing that they struggle with,” she says. “The one thing that we really have to work on is going over these strategies that, if you don’t know (a word), what can you do to help you figure this out on your own?”

East Webster is one of just 21 elementary schools out of the hundreds across Mississippi that posted a score of 95 percent or better.

According to the Mississippi Department of Education, in 2019, East Webster Elementary’s pass rate was 88.7 percent. In 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, it dropped to 69 percent.

“The students who are in third grade now, they lost half of their first grade year,” says school interventionist Stephanie Sanderford. “First grade is where the students learn, basically, probably 85 percent of their reading skills.”

Sanderford was tasked with helping all those students close that reading gap.

“We start going all the way back to the basics, to the beginning foundational steps of reading,” she says.

“In reading, a lot of times, that’s the hardest thing is to figure out,” says East Webster Elementary principal Jennifer Carver. “Can you not read the words? Do you not know the vocabulary? Are you reading too slow?”

Carver says these scores are a testament to the hard work of her students and the dedication of her teachers.

“We’ve got to continue until they get it,” she says. “And that’s what we did.”

Carver and her team say that one of the most crucial pieces of that process is to constantly encourage students and celebrate their success.

“Even the small successes, because that’s what they need to see,” Sanderford says. “They need to see that what they’re doing, and the hard work and effort that they’re putting in, is helping them get towards their goal.”

Another part of that process is rewarding students for reaching that goal. For their hard work, Carver held a third grade fun day for her students, complete with dodgeball and ice cream.

“You can’t give up on the kids because they’re going to give up on themselves before you do,” she says.

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