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More Mississippi Children On Track at the End of Kindergarten Year

Mississippi, which has made early literacy an educational focal point, has good news to report on test scores for its kindergartners. 

The children who started kindergarten in fall 2015 performed better on a test of early literacy compared to the previous year's kindergarten class. The children who were kindergarten students in fall 2014 were the first ones to take the state's new STAR Early Literacy Exam. The test is administered twice to kindergarten students, and is intended to give teachers an idea of what children know once they start school, and what they are able to do as they head to first grade. 

In fall 2014, the average score was 501, and it rose to 680 by spring 2015. That's the equivalent of a child starting school recognizing most letters and their sounds, and leaving kindergarten having mastered the alphabet, letter-sound relationships, and simple words. Those students are called "transitional readers," and that's where they are expected to be by the end of kindergarten.

For the most recent test administration, the average kindergarten score was 502 in fall 2015, but it rose to an average of 703 in spring 2016. That score is still in the transitional reader range, but state officials said the faster rate of growth showed that more students were mastering those early-literacy skills.

The target score for all kindergarten students is 681. In spring 2015, about 54 percent of children scored at or above that level. In spring 2016, about 63 percent met the benchmark

The state has been decidedly behind in preparing children for kindergarten for years, but these results suggest that may be changing, said Kim Benton, chief academic officer for the Mississippi Department of Education.

"Our schools' and teachers' focus on literacy is making a significant impact on student learning," she said in a statement released on June 16.

Mississippi is one of the newest states to claim a state preschool program, having launched a pilot program in 2014-15, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER, a think tank focused on early education. That year, the state served 4 percent of 4-year-olds, and Head Start served an additional 30 percent, according to NIEER. (Just less than a third, 29 percent, of Mississippi's children, live in poverty.)

It will be interesting to see if any future improvement is attributable to the new program at some point. In the meantime, it seems like plenty of kudos likely belong to the state's kindergarten teachers.

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