Pandemic negatively affects Kindergarteners statewide


About one-third of Mis­sissippi kindergarteners demonstrated they were kindergarten ready on a state literacy test this fall, a declining statistic State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said is “further proof” of the pandemic’s negative impact on students.

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment tests students exiting public pre-K programs and those entering pub­lic kindergarten. It meas­ures early literacy skills and is used as an instruc­tional baseline for teach­ers. It is also used to measure how well pre-kindergarten programs, both the state’s early learning collaboratives and other publicly funded pre-K, prepare four-year-olds for kinder­garten.

Among the 33,265 kindergarteners tested, 31.8% scored a 530 or higher on the test. The percentage dropped from 36.6% in fall of 2019. Over half, or 54.74%, score in the bot­tom range, or “early emergent” reader cate­gory. That category en­compasses students who are beginning to under­stand printed text has meaning and beginning to identify shapes, col­ors, letters and numbers, according to the Missis­sippi Department of Edu­cation.

The goal score of 530 indicates a student can identify most letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds. Students who attain this score can also begin to “read” picture books and are building their vocab­ulary, listening skills and understanding of print, according to the Missis­sippi Department of Edu­cation. The average statewide score for kindergarteners was 487.

Research also shows 85% of students who score a 530 or higher at the beginning of kinder­garten are proficient in reading at the end of third grade.

Four-year-olds in the state’s early learning col­laboratives also took the test, and 13.05% of those students met the end-of-year benchmark score of 498. In other pre-K programs, 10.10% of four-year-olds in other pre-K programs met the benchmark score.

Tenette Smith, director of elementary education and reading at the Mis­sissippi Department of Education, said the re­sults show the state is right to focus its efforts on pre-K students.

“This says to me we’re targeting the right stu­dents because the large majority of our kids are in need of additional sup­ports and strategies,” Smith said when present­ing the test results to the State Board of Education Friday.

Rachel Canter, execu­tive director of Missis­sippi First, said pre-K was particularly impacted by the pandemic because virtual learning is more difficult in early educa­tion. The Head Start pro­grams that were partners in the state’s early learn­ing collaboratives were entirely virtual during the 2020-21 school year, ac­cording to Canter and Smith.

“Other providers held in person classes but did so with a host of new COVID policies, like masking, a shortened school day, increased use of technology and an elimination of field trips,” said Canter, whose organization ad­vocates for early educa­tion and is preparing to release a report on the pandemic’s impact on the state’s early learning collaboratives. “Parental engagement, a key piece of early childhood, was also more difficult as in-person parent-teacher conferences and events were suspended.”

Smith emphasized sev­eral next steps for the department and educa­tors to combat the pan­demic’s detrimental impact: leverage federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand pre-K services and supplemental serv­ices such as high dosage tutoring; implement pre-K to kindergarten transi­tion plans; develop partnerships for Head Start; and train all teach­ers in the science of reading and ensure im­plementation of that in pre-K through 3rd grade, among other sugges­tions.

The Mississippi Depart­ment of Education has recently kicked off a se­ries of eight regional lit­eracy meetings for families of students in kindergarten through third grade. The goal is to help students by giv­ing parents and other family members strate­gies to use at home to improve literacy.

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment is a component of the Liter­acy Based Promotion Act passed in the 2013 leg­islative session. The law places an emphasis on grade-level reading skills, particularly in kinder­garten through third grade, and also includes a third grade reading as­sessment students are required to pass to con­tinue to fourth grade.

Wright, the state super­intendent, remained pos­itive.

“Mississippi’s kinder­garten teachers are out­standing. Yearly, their hard work leads to signif­icant gains for the state’s youngest students, and I anticipate seeing those gains when students are retested in spring 2022,” she said in a press re­lease announcing the re­sults.

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