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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Mississippi rules in reading

Mississippi students used to rank dead last in learning, writes Phil Bryant, the former governor of the state, on Real Clear Education. Not any more. "Mississippi fourth-graders, when adjusted for demographics, are ranked as the nation's top performers in reading and second in math," according to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Bryant credits legislation passed in 2013 that included "school choice, early childhood education, scholarships for dyslexic students, teacher-education reform -- and a requirement that third graders demonstrate reading proficiency to be promoted.

The "third-grade reading gate" was controversial, writes Bryant, who now advises the America First Policy Institute. Education experts claimed held-back students would be discouraged and push up the dropout rate.

Instead, graduation rates are now about 10 percent higher than the national average, despite the state's high poverty rate. Mississippi hired regional coordinators and school-based literacy coaches in the lowest-performing schools, writes Bryant. "A Literacy Coaching Handbook was developed for coaches, K–3 teachers, administrators, and university faculty teaching early literacy," so everyone understood language structure and how to improve instruction.

The results are "dazzling," writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He visited a second-grade class in Jackson, where nearly all students come from low-income, black families.

The class was reading a book, “The Vegetables We Eat.” The children read aloud and debated what vegetables were. Things that are green? Foods that don’t taste good? I was startled to see second graders read words like “vegetables” and “eggplant” fluently and still more astonished to see the entire class easily read the sentence “Where does nourishing food come from?”

Mississippi was a leader in the switch to "the science of reading," writes Kristof.

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