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Improving Literacy in Mississippi –The Journey Continues

Southeast | September 06, 2022

Partnering to Expand the Mission

The Mississippi success story of improving the literacy skills of students in the early grades is widely known and well-documented. After many years of languishing at the bottom when comparing student performance in literacy with other states, the Mississippi Department of Education resolved to make a concerted effort to improve the skills of the students in their state. In 2013, they began focusing on improving reading instruction in grades K-3, and this investment has paid off. As students mastered foundational skills in the primary grades, the state began to see improvement in the scores of fourth grade students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). By 2019, the average score for these students was not significantly different from the average score for students in the nation. In addition, Mississippi was the only state to make significant gains on grade 4 scores in 2019. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). The state continues to focus on strong literacy instruction in grades K-3 but is also turning their attention to the next leg of their journey to improve the skills of ALL students, which is to address instruction in grades 4 and up. Although the scores of fourth grade students have increased over the last several years, the state wants to ensure that there is strong instruction in every grade level from K-12. The Mississippi Improving Adolescent Literacy Partnership aims to help improve the literacy skills of adolescents by investing in the development of their teachers along with literacy coaches and leaders.

The Mississippi Department of Education and four school districts in the state – Canton, Columbus, Laurel, and George counties – are working together with REL Southeast to improve adolescent literacy skills by ensuring that social studies, English language arts, and science teachers know how to integrate literacy strategies into their content areas. In addition, the partnership is working to ensure that literacy intervention teachers are incorporating evidence-based practices as they support students who may be struggling with literacy skills. It is anticipated that if teachers provide literacy support throughout the school day, students of all ability levels will improve their skills in reading and writing.

Content Area Adolescent Literacy Project

REL Southeast staff are providing six training and coaching sessions to build the knowledge and ability of content area teachers to implement practices based on the recommendations of the Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices Practice Guide and the Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively Practice Guide and for school leaders to recognize these practices in classrooms. Grades 6-12 social studies, science, and English language arts teachers in Columbus and Canton counties participated in the first session of this project at the beginning of August. These teachers engaged in a lesson that incorporated multiple literacy strategies as an overview of the project. By the end of September teachers in Laurel and George counties will participate in the same session. In subsequent sessions teachers will delve more deeply into writing, direct vocabulary instruction, text marking, extended discussion of text, use of graphic organizers, and student question generation. Even though the teachers in Columbus and Canton counties only completed one session, one teacher wrote a message to her principal saying, "The literacy training helped me, as a teacher, to analyze a text better, and it gave me pointers on how to actively get the students engaged in my Social Studies class to help improve their literacy skills. The training helped prepare me to serve my students in the classroom better and has opened my eyes to a broader range of techniques and skills. The training was so informational and engaging that it gave me the confidence level needed to help my students."

This project culminates near the end of the 2022/23 school year by coaching teachers on how to develop lessons incorporating literacy strategies using their own text, and coaching school leaders on the Guide and Checklists for a School Leader’s Walkthrough During Literacy Instruction in Grades 4-12 so they can recognize these practices and support them in classrooms.

Literacy Intervention Project

In addition to providing training and coaching to content area teachers, REL Southeast staff will also be working to help teachers and interventionists implement evidence-based practices in intensive literacy intervention classrooms for students in grades 4-8 in the same school districts. Currently, REL Southeast mentor coaches are working with the districts to recruit grades 4-5 and grades 6-8 language arts teachers, interventionists, teacher leads/specialists, or any combination of those roles, in each of the districts to participate in the literacy intervention project. This work will begin in January 2023 with training and coaching sessions focused on multi-syllabic words and fluency in the winter and on vocabulary the following fall. The content of the sessions will be based on the recommendations of the Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4-9 Practice Guide released in March 2022. The professional learning opportunities also involves a follow-up coaching component to ensure that the strategies are embedded into classroom practice.

Moving Toward Our Goals

REL Southeast is actively working with our partners to increase teacher, coach, and school leader knowledge in implementing evidence-based practices in literacy. As the two projects described above unfold, we will move from knowledge building to implementation to embedding newfound knowledge and skills into the everyday way of work in classrooms. We know that if students receive support in building their literacy skills throughout the school day from their content area teachers, and by an intervention teacher if necessary, they will have an increased ability to engage with text to learn and to write well to communicate their thoughts. This is the primary goal of the Mississippi Adolescent Literacy Partnership. The ultimate goal is that in the participating districts we will see an increase in teacher knowledge, a change in teacher practice, and an improvement in student literacy skills so much so that the partnership will scale-up training throughout the state. Partnership members are excited to see the work begin and build on the success of the work in the primary grades to ensure ALL Mississippi students have the literacy skills they need to succeed.


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Laurie Lee, Ed.D

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