On Friday, the state Department of Education released results from its first-ever Early Literacy Assessment. They are significant, because this is the first time that school districts in Mississippi have statewide data to show whether our preschoolers are ready to learn. Based on the numbers, most youngsters are not prepared for the challenges and expectations of kindergarten.
A few weeks after school started back in August, about 44,000 Mississippi kindergartners took the Early Literacy Assessment. The state tested them on phonics and other skills to get a better gauge on whether they were ready for kindergarten.
To be considered ready, each child must make at least 530. Statewide, only children in 12 districts made the grade. Two of them are from South Mississippi: Long Beach and Greene County.
In Pass Christian, which is the top-rated school district in Mississippi, the kindergartners there averaged a bit lower at 520. The superintendent said the score shows the need for early childhood education.
"It also shows across the coast, a lot of our students score below the cut score. That just shows you how much we do grow students, because the coast schools are notoriously the best in the state," said Pass Christian Superintendent Beth John. "Even though they don't come ready, when they leave kindergarten, first grade, second grade, they are ready."
John said while many children who enter kindergarten have preschool experience, others barely know their colors or numbers. She said parents need to do more to teach their little ones at home.
"If you're going to the grocery store, ask your child to find something red to eat that night. Ask them something that rhymes with bagel. Ask them to find different numbers of things," said John.
The five-year-old boys and girls can count on higher expectations than before. For one thing, they face more rigorous Common Core Standards. Plus, when they reach the third grade, they have to pass a state reading test in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. Early testing can help target children who are struggling.
"It lets us know who needs intense intervention, who needs extra time spent with them, who needs parents to be trained in how to work with their child at home, so that they're not behind when they get to third grade," said John.
Schools will continue to screen each kindergartner throughout the school year to monitor their progress.