It was big news a few weeks ago when results of the third-grade reading test showed that more students in area schools had failed compared to the year before.

The good news is that in four local school districts — McComb, North Pike, Amite County and Walthall County — a lot of students who failed their first reading test in April passed the second go-round in May.  The percentage of students who move up to fourth grade will rise again if more third-graders pass their final try at the test.

South Pike did not provide complete results for the second round.

Here are some updates after the second round:

• McComb, which had the lowest passing rate in the area after the first test, at 56%, moved up to 75% passing after the second test. That’s nothing to throw a party over, but it’s a substantial improvement.

Eighty-nine third-graders failed the first reading test. For the second try, 86 McComb students took the test and 34 of them passed it.

That left a total of 52 students at Otken Elementary and Summit Elementary to take the test a third time. It was scheduled for this past week. Any student who does not pass this one must repeat third grade.

• At North Pike, which had the area’s highest first-round passing percentage by a wide margin, nine of 23 students who took the second test passed it.

However, another 13 students who failed the first test received what the state Department of Education calls a “good-cause exemption” that has promoted them to the fourth grade.

These exemptions, as I understand it, are for students with a severe disability who are on an Individualized Education Program; and for those that speak little or no English.

If you exclude the 13 good-cause students, North Pike’s passing rate was 83% after the second test. But if you include them, the rate rises to 91%.

The interesting thing is that I got mixed messages on whether to include the good-cause students. I confess to not asking the state about it, for fear of getting some windy e-mail with language that made no sense.

For North Pike, the good news is that it has the highest passing percentage after two tests. There’s no reason to predict things will be different after the third and final test.

• Amite County raised its passing rate to 78% after the second round, up from 68%. Fifteen third-graders out of the 68 originally tested did not pass on the first two tries.

• In Walthall County, where the first-round passing rate was 65%, nine students received a good-cause exemption and another 39 took the test again in May.

Walthall County did well in Round 2, as 19 of the 39 passed. That raised its passing rate to 79% (or 85% if you include the good-cause exemptions).

If you’ve gotten through this math lesson, good for you. Because the larger point is this: While schools can truthfully say that their passing rates are lower this year because the required grade is higher, the elevated standards are necessary.

In previous years, third-graders only needed to reach the second of five levels on the test to advance to fourth grade. This year, they had to reach the third level. Basically, they used to pass with a D but this year needed a C.

If a C on this test means a student is reading at grade level, then that ought to be the minimum to pass. Who is seriously going to argue that a D is good enough?

If a young child can’t read at their grade level, it gets more difficult to catch up each year, and it limits his abilities when he gets out of school.

Two elementary principals that I talked to about this said their school starts preparing for this test as early as kindergarten and first grade.

“Anything they’re going to see in third grade is not unfamiliar to them,” said Otken principal Dr. Cynthia Lamkin.

Maybe the best thing about the higher third-grade standards is that more parents appear to have noticed.

“Those who are going into third grade, that’s who I have been hearing from,” Lamkin said. “They’re asking, ‘What can I do?’ ”

That’s easy: Have your child read to you regularly. Help them get over any fears of words and tests. If more parents pay attention to their child’s reading grades, all this third-grade hand wringing will have been worth it.

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