National report finds Mississippi’s 3rd grade promotion law leads to early literacy gains
Published 6:15 am Tuesday, February 14, 2023
A new report from Boston University’s Wheelock Educational Policy Center found that Mississippi students retained in the 3rd grade under the Literacy-Based Promotion Act achieved higher English Language Arts (ELA) scores over time.
The report reviewed ELA scores and later academic outcomes from the first cohort of 3rd graders promoted and retained under the Literacy-Based Promotion Act. The study compared the results between students narrowly promoted to the 4th grade and students narrowly retained in the 3rd grade.
The study showed that, by 6th grade, students who only just fell short of the promotion benchmark had substantial and sustained literacy gains on their ELA scores compared to their peers who made the 4th grade promotion cut-off. These literacy gains were especially significant among African American and Hispanic students in the cohort. Results also indicate that the law had no significant impact on student absences or special education identification in the 6th grade. Students who were retained did not appear to experience other negative consequences because of their retention.
“The results of this study validate Mississippi’s early literacy policy and its effective implementation statewide,” said Dr. Robert Taylor, state superintendent of education. “Mississippi remains committed to ensuring teachers are well-equipped to teach using the science of reading and to providing every student with the support they need to become strong readers.”
Mississippi’s literacy law was created to help ensure kindergarten through 3rd-grade students develop good reading skills. The law requires all Mississippi 3rd-grade public school students to pass a reading assessment to qualify for promotion to 4th grade, unless the student meets one of the good cause exemptions specified in the law. In the 2021-22 school year, 85% of Mississippi 3rd graders passed the 3rd-grade reading assessment after the final retest.
Research has shown that without a basic mastery of early literacy, students in 4th grade and above struggle to stay on track in their other courses and are less likely to graduate from high school.
The Literacy-Based Promotion Act takes a comprehensive approach to building the capacity of teachers and school leaders to effectively teach reading and implement an ongoing system to monitor student progress. The law provides funding for the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) to deploy literacy coaches to schools where data show students struggle the most with reading. MDE coaches work directly with teachers and administrators to help them become more effective teachers of reading. Mississippi’s focus on literacy and high academic standards have made the state a national leader for improving student outcomes.
In 2019, Mississippi achieved the No. 1 spot in the nation for gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) when 4th grade students made the largest score gains from 2017 to 2019 in reading and mathematics. In 2022, Mississippi maintained its historic gains in NAEP 4th grade reading, while scores nationally dropped in all four NAEP subjects and grades.
“The results in Mississippi are undeniable,” said Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which commissioned the study. “By committing to early literacy mastery, Mississippi is preparing students for long-term academic success. Other states can follow Mississippi’s example by adopting policies that end social promotion and, equally important, require instruction based on the science of reading.”