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Editorial: Strong Literacy Skills in Early Years Lead to Greater Success in School


For Immediate Release: February 5, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. – When I worked as Gov. Haley Barbour’s education policy advisor, I often heard him say that children first learn to read so they can read to learn. While this seems like a simple maxim, the ability to read is essential for success in school and in life.

Without this set of skills, children fall behind in school and struggle to learn the important lessons that an increasingly competitive global economy requires. That is why it is vital for our state’s youngest citizens to develop literacy skills at school so that they may compete for jobs and lead innovation in the 21st century at work.

In the past, students in Mississippi were passed on from the 3rd grade to the 4th grade, even when they may not have been entirely ready. That’s not what we do anymore. Recent efforts by the Mississippi Legislature, specifically the Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA), have been signed into to law to promote early literacy and set a critical foundation for improving our children’s path to success. The LBPA is part of the Mississippi State Board of Education’s strategic plan to improve student outcomes and provides a comprehensive approach and set of supports designed to strengthen the reading abilities of students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade (K-3).

For the most part, children live up or down to adult expectations. As the state has raised the rigor of our curriculum, scores and other metrics, such as our all-time high graduation rate of 84 percent have increased. This year LBPA requires that 3rd grade students must score at level 3 or higher on the reading portion of the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) English Language Arts test to qualify for promotion to 4th grade. This is an increase from last year’s level 2 score, which is considered basic comprehension. The highest score on the test is level 5.

Simply put, if students do not meet expectations for reading skills as determined by scoring level 3 or higher on the reading assessment, then, with some exceptions, they are retained for another year in 3rd grade so they can benefit from intensive reading supports.

We know what resources are needed for success. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is providing our schools and districts with additional support to assist students who need help improving their reading skills. Under the LBPA provisions, schools and districts work to identify struggling readers early, provide immediate supports to help students strengthen their reading skills, and ensure students read at or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Additionally, the LBPA provides important support for K-3 teachers, who receive literacy-focused professional development opportunities, supports and tools they need to help all students read at grade level. The MDE has also deployed literacy coaches to schools and districts across the state to support the staff and help improve student reading achievement.

The LBPA has provided a solid foundation for improved reading skills and its intervention strategies are already providing a Return on Investment (ROI) for the taxpayers in Mississippi. These interventions have contributed to an increase in the initial passing rate among 3rd grade students from 85 percent in 2015 to 93 percent by 2018. Additionally, the scores on our NAEP test – known as the Nation’s Report Card – are now 2nd in the nation for gains in 4th grade reading. No one is claiming total victory and we know the road is long, but these are inarguably steps in the direction we’d like to be heading.

The Mississippi State Board of Education is committed to helping the boys and girls of this state develop the reading skills they need to build a successful future not only for themselves but for the entire state. The time to set the course is today. I urge all of us to raise our expectations as we raise the bar of achievement of what kids can do and to support these efforts to make an important difference in the lives of the next generation of Mississippi leaders.

Dr. Jason Dean is chair of the Mississippi State Board of Education. For more information about 3rd grade literacy, visit


Media Contact: 

Patrice Guilfoyle, APR
Director of Communications

Jean Cook, APR
Director of Public Relations