Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have seen a remarkable improvement in their student reading scores after passing a series of similar literacy reforms that focus on phonics and early intervention. Their progress has inspired other states to follow their example and adopt some of the same policies.
Mississippi went from being ranked the second-worst state in 2013 for fourth-grade reading to 21st in 2022, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Louisiana and Alabama, meanwhile, were among only three states to see modest gains in fourth-grade reading during the pandemic, which saw massive learning setbacks in most other states.
The states have trained thousands of teachers in the so-called science of reading, which refers to the most proven, research-backed methods of teaching reading. They have also screened for signs of reading deficiencies or dyslexia as early as kindergarten, informed parents if a problem was found and provided extra support for those kids.
“In this region, we have decided to go big,” said Kymyona Burk, a former Mississippi literacy director and now a senior policy fellow at ExcelinEd, a national advocacy group. “We know how to teach reading,” said Kelly Butler, the CEO of the Barksdale Institute, an influential organization in literacy policy in Mississippi. “We just have to do it everywhere.”
The turnaround in these three states has grabbed the attention of educators nationally, showing rapid progress is possible anywhere, even in areas that have struggled for decades with poverty and dismal literacy rates. Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Virginia are among the states that have recently adopted some of the same policies.
The states are not resting on their laurels, however. They are determined to keep pushing for more improvement and ensure every child can read. “We’re not going to be satisfied until every child can read,” said Carey Wright, Mississippi’s state superintendent of education. “We’re not going to let up,” said Rebecca Kockler, Louisiana’s assistant superintendent of academic content. “We’re going to keep pushing.”