From the New York Times opinion page:
There Is a Right Way to Teach Reading, and Mississippi Knows It
The state’s reliance on cognitive science explains why.
By Emily Hanford
Ms. Hanford is the senior education correspondent for APM Reports.
Dec. 5, 2019
“Thank God for Mississippi.”
That’s a phrase people would use when national education rankings came out because no matter how poorly your state performed, you could be sure things were worse in Mississippi.
Not anymore. New results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test given every two years to measure fourth- and eighth-grade achievement in reading and math, show that Mississippi made more progress than any other state.
The state’s performance in reading was especially notable. Mississippi was the only state in the nation to post significant gains on the fourth-grade reading test. Fourth graders in Mississippi are now on par with the national average, reading as well or better than pupils in California, Texas, Michigan and 18 other states.
What’s up in Mississippi? There’s no way to know for sure what causes increases in test scores, but Mississippi has been doing something notable: making sure all of its teachers understand the science of reading.
Basically, teach kids phonics. Sure, smart kids tend to be whole word readers (e.g., I barely read the last half of words. For example, experienced readers don’t really need to read the entire word “Mississippi” to recognize it. But new readers need phonics instruction to learn how to decode that famously long stretch of letters). But not everybody is smart, so teachers need to teach phonics, even if it’s tedious to do so. It seems to be working in Mississippi.
On other hand, Mississippi’s NAEP scores seem to have gone up about as much in math as they have in reading. Since 2011, Mississippi’s fourth grade reading scores have gone up 10.94 points relative to the whole country, but Mississippi’s math score has also gone up 10.94 points.
It could be that Mississippi has also figured out a better way to teach math as well as reading. Or maybe they just figured out a better way to score high on the NAEP? So I dunno what’s really going on …
If I have an extremely technical question involving baseball statistics, I can almost always find somebody on the Internet who has answered the question previously, and in convincing detail. In contrast, I’ve been wondering for over a decade why Texas badly outscores California on the NAEP (even though they have similar ethnic demographics)? Is it for real or is something going on involving the test? But that question remains murky because Americans don’t devote as much intelligence and skepticism to thinking about massive public policy questions as they do to thinking about baseball statistics.
UPDATE: iSteve commenter Col Reb Sez points out that Mississippi has installed a “gate” to keep low-scoring third graders from being promoted to fourth grade, where they would take the NAEP. From the Clarion Ledger:
‘I don’t want to fail, Mom.’ Bar raised for third graders taking reading test.
Jeff Amy, Associated Press Published 4:28 p.m. CT April 20, 2019
Mississippi is one of 16 states nationwide that demand third graders pass or flunk.
Mandatory retention policy remains controversial nationwide.
Schools will get scores in early May and students will re-test in mid-May.
Mississippi has long flunked the largest proportion of young students nationwide.
JACKSON — More than 35,000 Mississippi third graders sat down in front of computers this week to take reading tests, facing a state mandate to “level up” or not advance to fourth grade. But with the bar set higher this year, state and local officials expect more students will fail the initial test, even with efforts to improve teaching.
Mississippi is one of 16 states nationwide that demand third grade students pass a reading score threshold or flunk. Nevada and Michigan plan to impose such requirements in the next two years, and Alabama lawmakers are considering one.
The mandatory retention policy remains controversial nationwide. Experts agree students who flunk a grade are more likely to drop out. While third-grade reading policies typically call for intensive remedial work for students who are held back, one study found the boost helps for a while but eventually fades.
When the Magnolia State implemented its requirement in 2015, students only had to reach the second, or basic, level on a state test scored in five tiers. This year, the state is raising the bar, saying students must reach the third level.
This helps explain why analyzing baseball statistics is so much more popular than analyzing education statistics. There is always something new happening with baseball statistics, but education statistics not so much.