Mississippi Students Defy National Trends and Show Significant Improvements in Reading and Math

10/28/2015 in Media, News

JACKSON—Mississippi fourth graders demonstrated significant improvement in reading and math achievements on “The Nation’s Report Card” (NAEP) assessment given to fourth and eighth grade students around the United States. Results for 2015 were released Wednesday. Mississippi was the only state in the nation to show an increase in achievement in both subject areas.

​​Mississippi fourth graders earned a six-point increase in reading scores and a three-point increase in math scores from 2013 to 2015. Mississippi’s fourth grade reading increase is the most substantial increase the state has ever demonstrated on the NAEP test.

“This is an outstanding achievement for Mississippi. The credit truly goes to the students and to the hardworking teachers and caring families who support them,” Gov. Phil Bryant said.

Nationally, 2015 fourth grade reading scores were flat, and fourth grade math scores decreased over the same time period. Math and reading scores for Mississippi eighth graders remained steady from 2013 to 2015. Nationally, scores for that age group trended downward in both subjects.

Researchers agree that when a state demonstrates achievement levels that are significantly different than national trends, as Mississippi fourth graders have demonstrated in reading and math, the reason is likely a policy or action taken by the state.

In 2013, Mississippi adopted Gov. Phil Bryant’s “Third Grade Gate” literacy based promotion policy. The policy inspired an intense, statewide focus on literacy and provides additional resources for both teachers and students.

The fourth grade students who took the NAEP assessment earlier this spring and achieved Mississippi’s six-point gain were in third grade when the Third Grade Gate took effect. These students therefore received the benefit of reading coaches and teachers who had been retrained in best practices for reading instruction. The students were also provided with additional reading instruction if they demonstrated a literacy deficiency during their third grade school year.

“Teachers, administrators and students all understand that learning to read by third grade is critically important,” Gov. Bryant said. “The state has placed a special emphasis on literacy to ensure that children across the state have the opportunity to succeed. The NAEP results show the positive effect of that work and make a strong case for state-led reform efforts like those included in the ‘Education Works’ agenda.”

The Education Commission of the States, a national policy organization that tracks state policies and trends in education, agrees that Mississippi’s state-led policies are generating a positive effect on student achievement.

“Mississippi has implemented focused education policies in the past couple of years aimed to help students achieve higher reading and math scores. These policies have provided students the support services and monitoring necessary to see such a significant increase in fourth grade reading scores statewide,” said Jeremy Anderson, President of the Education Commission of the States.

Mississippi’s Third Grade Gate policy was inspired by a similar policy in Florida spearheaded by the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Following implementation of the literacy policy in that state, Florida fourth graders, like Mississippi students, demonstrated substantial increases in reading achievement.

“Today’s results are another indicator that the reforms of the last four years are having a positive impact for Mississippi students,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO for the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). “This would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of Mississippi’s teachers, principals, parents and community leaders, who took ownership of these proven policies to ensure that young Mississippians are best prepared to succeed in school and life. Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn, the Legislature and the Department of Education have revolutionized education policy in the Magnolia State. They prioritized the academic achievement of children and the results speak for themselves.”

The Third Grade Gate was adopted in 2013 as part of Gov. Bryant’s “Education Works” agenda. “Education Works” is a package of state-driven public education reforms that includes policies regarding public charter schools, merit pay for teachers, support for effective early childhood learning programs and scholarships to support high-achieving students who want to become teachers.​