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State Spotlight: The Road to Early Literacy Improvements in Mississippi

• Cari Miller

The phrase “Thank God for Mississippi” when discussing education is no longer applicable. The Magnolia State, which once kept other states from a last-in-line ranking, has now become a national leader in improving student learning outcomes.

What has contributed to this dramatic turnaround?

It’s been a commitment at every level – state, district, school and teacher – to prioritize early literacy.

I recently joined hundreds of educators as well as parents, community partners and policymakers at the Mississippi Department of Education’s first literacy summit. It is because of their hard work and dedication that Mississippi ranked second in the nation in learning gain improvements since the enactment of the Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA), according The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

Let’s take a walk down memory lane to see how they got here.

In 2013, Senator Gray Tollison worked with Mississippi leaders to pass – and Governor Phil Bryant signed into law – legislation establishing the LBPA to ensure a comprehensive approach to teaching all children to read starting as early as kindergarten. The true spirit of the law is to identify K-3 students who need additional help in reading as early as possible and to provide instruction and intervention based on the science of reading so they read on grade level by the end of third grade.

Dr. Carey Wright, Mississippi’s State Superintendent of Education, took the bull by the horns and went to work.

One of the most impactful components of LBPA implementation has been the professional development system of support that was put in place to help teachers effectively implement the law and achieve its goals. This included statewide training on the science of reading and job-embedded reading coach support to help teachers deliver instruction and intervention to meet the needs of all students.

In 2016, the law was amended to include individual reading plans for students identified with a reading deficiency. The plan is created by the school in collaboration with the student’s parents and prescribes the specialized instruction and supports that will be provided. Also, a higher cut score for passing third grade was established, raising the bar for educators and students. Lastly, the law was amended requiring pre-service teachers to pass a foundational reading test for certification to ensure they had the knowledge and skill to teach all students to read from the very minute they enter the school system as educators.

Mississippi’s efforts have paid off. There have been drastic improvements in overall student reading achievement as demonstrated on the third-grade Mississippi Academic Assessment Program English Language Arts (MAAP-ELA) assessment. Since 2016:

  • Nearly a 12-percentage point increase in the percent of students scoring Level 3 (passing) and above;
  • A 16-percentage point increase in the percent of students scoring Level 4 and 5 (proficient and above); and
  • Nearly a 3-percentage point decrease in the percent of students scoring at the lowest achievement level (Level 1).

Earlier this year, ExcelinEd released Mississippi’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act: An Inside Look, a study of Mississippi’s LBPA with input from the Mississippi Department of Education, district leaders and teacher around the state. According to the study, teachers and literacy leaders overwhelmingly agreed that the LBPA has provided the support necessary for improving reading instruction, which has led to more students prepared to tackle the more rigorous fourth grade coursework, setting them on the path to learn, graduate and succeed.

It is clear, Dr. Carey Wright has made early literacy one of her top priorities and has quickly become the face for the LBPA and its most vocal advocate. And it is not going unnoticed; the nation is watching!

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.