Clay third-graders top 95 percent on critical test

Staff Writer

The end of the school year always is exciting, but it got even more exciting today at two Clay County schools.

South Side and West Clay elementaries shared the news they had reached or exceeded 95 percent pass rate on the third grade reading gate test, the test that determines whether third-graders will be able to go to the fourth grade next year.

For South Side, the 95.3 percent pass rate was a new record for the four years the test has been a benchmark in the state.

The news prompted excited phone calls to parents at West Clay and a buzz in hallways at South Side as parents picked up their children’s assessment reports. For the staffs, it was a moment to take a deep breath and feel some satisfaction.

“The parents have worried about it all year, the teachers have worried about it all year, and the kids have worried about it. It’s always stressful. When you find out the scores, you exhale for a moment and pause to take a little pride and satisfaction,” South Side Principal Casey Glusencamp said. “But you can’t rest long, you have to start getting ready for next year.

“But everyone deserves a lot of credit,” she continued.

“We let the kids call their parents and tell them. It was a lot of fun. The teachers have worked really hard and this third grade has shown a lot of growth. It was a special moment for them. We’re so proud of the kids,” said Brad Cox, who is completing his first year as principal at West Clay.

Administrators had expected to get the scores Friday afternoon, but a delay with the company that handles the state meant the scores didn’t arrive until about 10 p.m. Saturday.

“We were really pumped when we got them,” Cox said.

Principals went straight to work notifying teachers to plan for Monday’s unveiling and getting the word out to parents.

At Southside, 272 of 283 third-graders passed. At West Clay, it was 19 out 0f 20. The previous high percentage at South Side was 94 percent. At West Clay, where the small number of students can sway percentages wildly, the percentage actually was better than 96 percent last year when one out of 27 students didn’t pass.

The state has not released statewide scores or averages yet but both Clay schools are expected to be above the state average for passing percentages.

Those 12 students have two chances to retake the test and pass it, starting Wednesday and both principals are optimistic they’ll reach 100 percent.

“We reached 98 percent last year, but we don’t want to be satisfied with that. We want every child to succeed and already have been working with the 11 who barely missed to get them through, We feel like they are very close,” Glusencamp said. “Every kid has come a long way this year and we are going to get these 12 through.”

The reading gate results are the first of a string of standardized test scores that will arrive during the next few weeks and define a school for another year.

“This is just one, but it gets us started on the right foot,” Cox said.

“It helps end the year on a good note. It’s a positive feeling going into the summer,” Glusencamp said.

The reading gate was controversial when approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Bryant five years ago. But it slowly has become accepted among educators.

The downside is the pressure it puts not on teachers and administrators but the kids themselves.

“If I worry about something, it’s the pressure the young kids can feel,” Cox said.

South Side students and faculty will wear their bright yellow South Side shirts today to celebrate.

“Yes, we’ve been successful and we want everyone to know it. But we have to take it seriously every day,” Glusencamp said.

While his school is much smaller and a “bad day” for two or three students can change percentages dramatically, the approach is the same for Cox.

“If you wait until the last day to worry, then you are too late. We’ll celebrate, but we’ll be back at work to be even better the next time,” he concluded.