Fewer pre-K and kindergarten students met the benchmark for reading readiness this year compared to 2019, a decline education officials attribute to the impact of the pandemic.  

Previous state tests have also demonstrated the impact of the pandemic on student achievement, but some, like the third-grade reading assessment, have stayed consistent with pre-pandemic levels. 

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment tests public pre-K and kindergarten students to measure early literacy skills. It is used as an instructional baseline for teachers, and students who meet their benchmark score have been shown to become proficient in reading by the end of third grade. 

Early learning collaboratives (ELC) are one form of public pre-K, made up of partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers, and nonprofit groups. This spring, 65% of the 2,700 ELC students tested met the benchmark score, down from 77% in the spring of 2019. 

Other public pre-K programs also saw a decline since 2019, from 69% of students meeting the benchmark score to 61.5% this year.

Education department officials explained that pre-K students were less likely to have been in daycare, and therefore less likely to have had formal classroom experiences for the last two years. 

“(Pre-K students) had less exposure to other children, teachers, and adults due to isolation during these two years prior to entering that pre-K setting,” said Melissa Beck, K-3 assessment coordinator for the department. “Many of the adults they encountered wore masks, which hindered the ability to hear language clearly and see the mouth, which we know is a barrier to reading instruction. Less exposure to others speaking and listening causes delays in language development.” 

Students at the end of kindergarten also take the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment to track their progress over the year and to help teachers identify areas for additional instruction. Of the 34,000 public kindergarten students who were tested, 58% met their benchmark score. This number also dropped from 2019, when 66% of students met the benchmark. 

To address this drop, the state education department recommends that districts train all K-3 teachers in the science of reading, host parent workshops, and work to expand pre-K programs through state funds. Department officials said they would be expanding their monitoring of early learning collaboratives, providing additional professional development opportunities for teachers, and increasing the use of screener assessments to monitor student progress. 

“Despite the learning disruptions caused by COVID-19, Mississippi kindergarteners still showed significant growth during the 2021-22 school year thanks to the hard work and dedication of their teachers to accelerate learning,” said Dr. Kim Benton, interim state superintendent of education. “Teachers will be able to use these results to inform instruction in the early grades.”

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.

Allison is a Jackson native and has recently joined Mississippi Today as a reporting intern. She will be working under the community health and higher education teams. Allison also currently writes for her college newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, as sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.