Brighter Futures Begin with HOPE.

Poverty and Education: Third Grade Reading Gate

June 12th, 2015

Schools with high poverty have more students fail third grade reading test

Statewide results from the first round of literacy based promotion tests for third graders (commonly known as the “third grade reading gate”) show that 15% of students failed to meet the required score for promotion. However, those scores varied widely among schools that had no students fail to those that had more than half fail.

This year marks the first year that Mississippi’s third grade gate law has been implemented. The law requires third graders to pass a test intended to measure a child’s reading level in order to progress to move up to the fourth grade. By law, third graders have three chances to pass the test for promotion and can also be granted an exemption based on a number of factors named in the law. Our previous post about the third grade gate can be found here.

A key difference between schools with low and high failing rates is the school’s percentage of low-income students. Statewide, 72% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch (which is often used as a proxy measure of student income). The top 10 schools in the state with the lowest failing rates average 75% of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch while the bottom 10 schools with the highest failing rates average 95% of students with free and reduced lunch. Free and reduced lunch eligibility is based on the student’s family income*.

Poverty and Education- Third Grade Reading Gate-04

One school among the top 10 schools, West Clay Elementary in Cedarbluff, Mississippi, stands out as an “outlier” having a 0% failing rate despite having 98% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. If it were not included in the top 10, the percent of free and reduced lunch for the remaining schools in the top 10 is only 66% of students, well below the state average.

The scatterplot charts below show every school district (blue) and every third grade school (red) in the state and where they fall in relation to the third grade failing rate and poverty data. The charts show a fairly strong relationship between the failure rate and student poverty. MEPC is digging deeper into the Third Grade Reading Gate data and other school data like student race, student/teacher ratio, and school funding and will continue to release findings as they are available.

There is a well-documented link in academic research between poverty and poor student achievement. Additionally, researchers have found that to close this achievement gap, schools with high numbers of students living in poverty need to provide more resources for students. Lawmakers should consider these needs as they evaluate the third grade reading gate program and school funding levels.

Relationship between Percent of Third Grade Reading Test Failure and Low-Income Students by Mississippi School District

Poverty and Education- Third Grade Reading Gate-03

Relationship between Percent of Third Grade Reading Test Failure and Low-Income Students by Mississippi School

Poverty and Education- Third Grade Reading Gate-02


MEPC analysis of data from the MS Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.
*Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is under 130% of the federal poverty level and reduced lunch if under 185% of the poverty level.

Sara Miller


Share this article.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone