Mississippi to step up reading instruction for third-graders

State officials say they plan to use bolstered state funding to hire more literacy coaches and better train teachers as schools seek to meet legislative requirements that all third graders read at a basic level by next year or be flunked.

Lawmakers gave the Mississippi Department of Education $15 million to spend on the program, up from $9.5 million this year. Officials with the department say they intend to use the money to hire 45 literacy coaches and supervisors, up from 31 this year. Those coaches will cover 74 target schools in 50 districts, up from 50 schools in 30 districts. The state has tried to focus on schools with the lowest reading scores.

Trecina Green, who leads teacher training efforts for the department, said the state will expand a training program run by Dallas-based Cambium Learning to 6,500 K-3 teachers from 3,500 this year.

If the requirement for a minimum score, which advocates call the third-grade gate, had been in effect last year, about 5,000 of Mississippi’s 37,000 third graders would have failed. The mandate was signed into law last year.

Students who fail can still go on to fourth grade if they have a disability, if they show acceptable reading levels on some other assessment, or if they’ve had two or more years of intensive support. Any student who fails and is promoted is supposed to get more help in fourth grade.

The $15 million meets the amount Gov. Phil Bryant had proposed for the program last year. Alabama and Florida, with similar programs, each hired hundreds of literacy coaches. Many Mississippi districts have hired their own literacy coaches in addition to the state effort.