Reading proficiency still a cypher at Mississippi schools

Reading proficiency still a cypher at Mississippi schools

(Miss.) Although still just two years underway, a high-stakes literacy program for early learners in Mississippi appears to be struggling, according to a federal study released Wednesday.

In an effort to help turn around one of the nation’s worst student performance records, lawmakers allocated $10 million in 2013 and established the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, which mandates that all 3rd graders that didn’t meet proficiency standards in reading, would not be promoted to the 4th grade.

Like many other states, Mississippi is administrating a new testing system and a revised set of curriculum standards, thus, comparing this year’s test scores to the past is problematic.

Thus, researchers from Florida State University working under the auspices of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, asked a different question: how many of the state’s 639 schools that serve students in grades 3 through 8 are performing better than would otherwise be expected based on demographics and socioeconomic characteristics of their enrollment?

The answer was 18.

The Florida State researchers didn’t put the answer into much context. That is, they didn’t explain if that number was small, about average or good. Nor did they explain how the 18 schools fit into the broader question about how well schools were doing overall since the literacy program got underway.

But there are some hints.

It might be assumed that the baseline the researchers were working with for how a school might perform would be drawn from past scoring on statewide tests, once demographics and social-economic factors are accounted for.

If so, then the fact that 18 schools are performing better than expected since the state interjected the $10 million and imposed the grade promotion restriction would suggest things are mostly status quo.

Taken another way, 97 percent of the schools in Mississippi appear to be performing to past averages–which is not good. Mississippi perennially ranks either last or nearly last on national and international performance testing.

The team did look at the demographic and social economic components of the schools that were doing better.

Of the 18 schools that were beating the odds in English language arts, 89 percent had an enrollment made up most of black and economically disadvantage students.

The researchers explained their “beating the odds” filter this way:

“The beating-the-odds analysis entailed a two-stage process. In the first stage, expected school performance was calculated using a statistical model that accounted for school demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. This was done by estimating school-level percentages of grade 3–8 students proficient in English language arts and in math as measured on the Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition (MCT2) using a multiple linear regression prediction model with school demographic characteristics as predictors.”