Local kindergartners make reading gains

From Press and Staff Reports

The results of Mississippi’s first statewide assessment of learning in kindergarten show that the majority of the state’s youngest students have made significant gains this academic year, including those in Webster County.

More than 40,000 kindergarteners from 144 districts took the computer-based STAR Early Literacy exam in the fall and spring of the 2014-15 school year. The state average score for the fall test was 501. The average score climbed to 680 after the spring test, according to results released Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Education.

The A-rated Webster County School District saw a significant increase in scores. The district’s average score (from Eupora and East Webster elementary schools) jumped from 474 to 681.

“These scores show that teachers have been equipping children with the foundational reading skills that are needed to progress in school,” said Dr. Kim Benton, MDE’S chief academic officer. “Schools and teachers have been effective at helping students who start school unprepared exit kindergarten with beginning reading skills.”

Every district in the state showed progress among their kindergarten classes, though student achievement varied.

Statewide, 56 percent of students scored above 675 (including those in the Webster County Schools), which categorizes them as transitional readers. Students scoring at this level are beginning to read unfamiliar words and easy reader material, but are not yet independent readers. Among the 44 percent of students who scored below 675, most scored near the cusp of the transitional reader category.

“The scores from this assessment are not intended to be used for decisions about student promotion or retention,” Benton said. “Child development research tells us that all children learn at a different pace. Regardless of their score on this test, all children who complete kindergarten need support throughout the summer to continue developing their reading skills.”

District average scores ranged from 595 to 762.

The Kosciusko School District, whose average pretest score of 445 was the lowest in Mississippi, achieved the state’s highest gain and average score of 762 on the spring test. Oxford had the state’s highest average score in the fall at 553 and ended at 744, a gain of 191 points.

The benchmark score for the fall Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was 530. This score was used to determine whether children were ready for kindergarten learning. Based on the fall results, two out of every three students entered kindergarten lacking prerequisite skills. The spring test showed 9 percent of kindergarteners scored below 530.

“The results of the fall and spring Kindergarten Readiness Assessment underscore the need to expand access to high-quality early childhood education throughout Mississippi,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “When children start school unprepared, school districts have to work much harder to help students catch up. Early childhood education is a valuable tool for parents to help equip their children for success in Kindergarten and beyond.”

Research from a four-year study shows that 84 percent of students at the beginning of kindergarten with a score of 530 or above on the STAR Early Literacy exam are on track to become proficient readers by the end of third grade.

This test evaluates skills such as the ability to recognize letters and match letters to their sounds and a student’s recognition that print flows from left to right. The exam produces reports for parents and teachers that detail each child’s early reading skills. Teacher reports also include diagnostic information and instructional plans for every student.

In addition to the STAR Early Literacy exam, the MDE has provided every school district in the state with a common set of literacy screeners to evaluate children’s progress throughout the year.

“We now have an objective measure of student progress in kindergarten,” Wright said. “These test results will help schools make data-driven decisions that are in the best interest of their students. Reading instruction must remain a major focus of kindergarten through the third grade.”

To view the results, visit www.mde.k12.ms.us/kr.