After pandemic-driven declines on the kindergarten readiness exam last year, more students are meeting benchmarks in kindergarten and some pre-K programs, while other pre-K programs did not see any change. 

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. 

Students took the test last year for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer students met literacy benchmarks in all pre-K programs and kindergarten. Education officials attributed this decline to the impact of the pandemic, as students were less likely to have been in day care and therefore less likely to have a history of formal classroom experiences.

Head Start programs also performed worse than their peers in the pre-K programs last year, a gap that officials attributed to more time spent in virtual learning and said they expected to close.

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 year, slightly fewer ELC students met the end-of-year benchmark than last year, which had already seen post-pandemic declines. 

Tenette Smith, director of elementary education and reading at the Mississippi Department of Education, attributed this to the rapid growth of the ELC program, with the number of collaboratives doubling in the last year. She also pointed out that these new ELCs were in various stages of implementation. 

Micayla Tatum, director of early childhood policy at Mississippi First, said she was pleased with the results for the ELCs. Mississippi First, an education policy organization, was a leader in the push to establish early learning collaboratives in 2013.

“I was very happy with the results for the collaboratives,” said Tatum. “Typically when you scale a program you can expect that there’s going to be some type of implementation effect and you will lose impact, and we’re not seeing that.” 

The report also covers other public pre-K programs, which refer to special pre-K programs for students with disabilities and those funded by federal money to support high-poverty schools. More students in these programs met the benchmark than last year, but still fell short of the 2019 level. 

Students also take this test at the end of kindergarten to track their progress over the year and to help teachers identify areas for additional instruction. More kindergarteners across the state met their benchmarks over last year, but they also were still shy of pre-pandemic levels. 

“Still a lot of work to do, and of course our goal with all of our assessments and accountability results is to get back to pre-pandemic levels and continue that upward trajectory,” said Paula Vanderford, chief accountability officer with the state education department. 

The agency recommends districts ensure their professional development is aligned with research-backed practices, provide similar professional development to paraprofessionals who support elementary teachers, and use the data from this test to target students who need additional help. 

Melissa Beck, K-3 assessment coordinator for the state education department, also stressed how important it is for parents to understand their child’s test results to ensure they are on track to pass the third-grade reading test a few years later. If students do not pass the third-grade test, they will not be promoted to the next grade.

“If you have questions, please reach out to your teacher, your school, or even me,” Beck said. 

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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.