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#AskExcelinEd: How Can States Fix America’s Reading Problem?

• Cari Miller

Last week, we answered the question Why Can’t Millions of Kids Read? and reviewed scientifically-based reading instruction. In this post, we’ll examine how two states, Florida and Mississippi, are working to fix America’s reading problem.

Florida’s Story

To begin, let’s look at Florida’s example.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress’s National Reading Panel report was released. The report concluded that explicit and systematic instruction of the “Fab 5” helps kids become better readers.

The next year, then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush established Just Read, Florida!, the statewide reading initiative. In 2002, state legislators enacted a comprehensive K-3 reading policy, and Florida was awarded the federal Reading First grant—a nationwide reading initiative, driven by the National Reading Panel report.

As director of Florida’s Reading First program from 2004-2009, I had the privilege of being a part of Florida’s incredible work to enable all students to become successful readers by the end of third grade. Reading First, combined with Florida’s K-3 reading policy, brought many transformative changes to Florida:

  • Focus on the use of reliable and valid assessment to better inform instruction.
  • Delivery of scientifically-based reading instruction and intervention.
  • A system for statewide early literacy training.
  • School-based reading coaches to support teachers with effective implementation.

During this time, I witnessed vast improvement in assessment practices, professional development and instructional practices based on the science of reading. And in the end, there were substantial improvements in student reading achievement across the Sunshine state.

Florida’s Results

In 2002, Florida’s fourth-grade readers performed well below the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). By 2017, Florida ranked fourth in the nation in fourth-grade reading performance overall and outperformed the national average in every subgroup.

Mississippi’s Story

In 2013, Mississippi enacted the Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA). Lawmakers created the Act to ensure schools use a comprehensive approach to teach all children to read starting as early as kindergarten.

The true spirit of the law is to first identify K-3 students who need additional help in reading as early as possible and then to provide instruction and intervention based on the science of reading to ensure all students read on grade level by the end of third grade.

Mississippi provides the following supports to help teachers with effective implementation of LBPA. These supports are truly the cornerstone of the LBPA A.

  • Statewide training on the science of reading to ensure teachers have the knowledge and skill to teach kids to read.
  • Reading coaches to provide job-embedded training and support for teachers to deliver scientifically-based reading instruction and intervention.

Mississippi’s Results

Since Mississippi enacted the LBPA in 2013, the state’s fourth-grade NAEP reading scores have substantially improved, increasing reading proficiency by more than a half a grade level. In 2017, Mississippi was second in the nation in fourth-grade reading learning gains.

Today, ExcelinEd released a study on the impact of Mississippi’s reading program. Learn more or read the report.

How Other States Can Prioritize Reading

Thanks to Florida and Mississippi, more students are becoming successful readers due, in large part, to the strong focus on scientifically-based reading research. Ten additional states have adopted comprehensive K-3 reading policies with a focus on scientifically-based reading instruction like Florida and Mississippi.

To learn about these states and how your state can ensure all students enter fourth grade with the foundational reading skills they need to learn, graduate and succeed, visit or explore the resources below.

About the author

Cari Miller

Cari Miller serves as Policy Director of Early Literacy for ExcelinEd. She works hand in hand with states pursuing a comprehensive approach to K-3 reading policy, and she supports state departments with effective policy implementation. Cari is a former elementary teacher and reading coach. She also served as the Deputy Director of Just Read, Florida!, Governor Jeb Bush’s statewide literacy initiative. At Just Read, Florida!, she served in other capacities, including: Elementary Reading Specialist, Director of Reading First and Director of Elementary Reading. Her sole mission is to improve student reading achievement across the nation.