Mississippi is increasing its literacy efforts to comply with a new state law that prohibits social promotion of third graders. After Mississippi adopted a law that is similar to Florida’s, 3rd graders must pass a reading test to be eligible to move on to fourth grade. To be promoted, 3rd graders must score at least the lowest achievement level. However, that requirement will change in 2018. They will need to score at least the highest achievement levels. The new law was first implemented in 2015. In 2015, 92% of 3rd-graders passed. The remaining 8 percent were allowed to take the test three times. According to the final results, this year’s test result showed a higher pass rate. 92 percent of students passed it on their first attempt. Some districts saw improvements from 2014-2015, while others are still struggling. In an effort to make sure children are reading early, literacy coaches trained elementary school teachers in 127 schools in the state. The number of literacy coaches in the state has increased to 83. In addition, the Barksdale Reading Institute provides support in 20 additional schools. The second-largest in the state, Jackson Public School District had three of its highest-scoring elementary schools. Each school is a “special program”, or it has an arts, international Baccalaureate (IB), and Montessori program. All of these programs integrate literacy into the curriculum. JPS’ overall pass score rose from 72 percent to 79% percent between 2015 and 2016, Chief Academic Officer for Elementary Schools Michelle King credited to the presence of reading interventionists at every elementary school in the District, as well as lead teachers who offer model lessons and guidance to other teachers. We are focusing on the strong literacy block. King explained that the literacy block was increased from a 90-minute block to a 120 minute block last year. This means more time is being spent on literacy and reading. The district also has a phonics program that will help students in the younger grades. Choctaw County Schools District was among the top 10 most performing in the state. Superintendent Stewart Glen Beard stated that he intends to continue building the foundation for literacy from pre-K to 2nd grade. Beard explained that there is a strict grading system for kindergarten through second grade. They must score at least a certain level in reading tests before they can move on to the next grade. “Those strict requirements we’ve found really translate onto the 3rd Grade.” Beard explained that the district has required core classes to be at 80 or higher for at least seven years. Beard stated, “We found that the reading gap widens as students age.” The Holmes County School District, which is D-rated, saw an exceptional jump in one of its elementary schools’ pass rates. The district’s overall pass rate increased from 59 percent to 66 percent, while Williams Sullivan Elementary in Durant saw its 3rd-grade students pass more than twice as fast from 48 percent to 87 per cent. Superintendent Angel Meeks stated that the school’s former principal, and third-grade teacher, are responsible for the leap. Meeks stated that both of these women spent hours tutoring third-grade students and intervening in their lives. Meeks attributes the district’s growth to teachers receiving additional training in literacy teaching and reading comprehension. The Mississippi Department of Education also provided literacy coaches to three of the four elementary schools. Students at Williams Sullivan Elementary were served by the Barksdale Reading Institute. Gov. Phil Bryant, a supporter of the third grade reading exam and other education reform efforts signed an executive order in June that established a taskforce to improve early childhood literacy in public school systems. The task force includes teachers and staff from the Institutions for Higher Learning, Barksdale Reading Institute, Mississippi Department of Education, and the Governor’s Office. Sally Barksdale and Jim Barksdale founded the Barksdale Reading Institute in 2000. Mississippi Today’s board includes Jim Barksdale. Michael Cormack from the Barksdale Reading Institute stated that it and the task force also work with undergraduate programs. Cormack stated that there is an ongoing effort to strengthen undergraduate education in order to make sure teachers are ready for work on the first day. He also noted that groups are currently looking into improving licensure requirements and program certification requirements. The task force’s recommendations will be published at the end next month. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. 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