Meridian Star

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April 22, 2014

Miss. looks to step up reading instruction


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — State officials say they plan to use bolstered state funding to hire more literacy coaches and better train teachers as schools seek to meet legislative requirements that all third graders read at a basic level by next year or be flunked.

Lawmakers gave the Mississippi Department of Education $15 million to spend on the program, up from $9.5 million this year. Officials with the department say they intend to use the money to hire 45 literacy coaches and supervisors, up from 31 this year. Those coaches will cover 74 target schools in 50 districts, up from 50 schools in 30 districts. The state has tried to focus on schools with the lowest reading scores.

Trecina Green, who leads teacher training efforts for the department, said the state will expand a training program run by Dallas-based Cambium Learning to 6,500 K-3 teachers from 3,500 this year.

If the requirement for a minimum score, which advocates call the third-grade gate, had been in effect last year, about 5,000 of Mississippi's 37,000 third graders would have failed. The mandate was signed into law last year.

Students who fail can still go on to fourth grade if they have a disability, if they show acceptable reading levels on some other assessment, or if they've had two or more years of intensive support. Any student who fails and is promoted is supposed to get more help in fourth grade.

The $15 million meets the amount Gov. Phil Bryant had proposed for the program last year. Alabama and Florida, with similar programs, each hired hundreds of literacy coaches. Many Mississippi districts have hired their own literacy coaches in addition to the state effort.

Cambium's Sopris Learning unit will get $3.7 million in the 2015 budget year, a $500,000 increase over the $3.2 million the state is spending this year. The training comes in two phases, each consisting of 15 to 20 hours of online work and three days of face-to-face training for teachers at target schools. Participating non-target schools get two days of face-to-face training.

Officials told the state Board of Education on Thursday that they hope to enroll teachers in training in the courses starting next year. In Senate Bill 2572, which Gov. Phil Bryant has yet to sign into law, legislators called for elementary teachers to pass a test showing they know up-to-date reading instruction methods. If Bryant signs the bill, the requirement would take effect July 1, 2016.

The same bill calls for the state Department of Education to provide literacy coaches in 10 C-rated school districts "in a geographically concise region," using an additional $700,000. Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who pushed the measure, said he wants the University of Mississippi to coordinate the effort and for the state to choose districts near Oxford.

Tollison said he supports the department's aim to hire "quality over quantity" when it comes to coaches. But he said it's important to expand support to mid-rated districts.

"The tests are going to take effect next year and the intent was to get them as much support as possible," he said.


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