Mississippi Named Campaign for Grade-Level Reading State

Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Advisory Board: (front row, from left to right): Sammy Moon, Mississippi Association of Grantmakers; Cindy Walker, United Way of South Mississippi; Dr. Kymyona Burk, Mississippi Department of Education State Literacy Director; Morgana Freeman, Tallahatchie River Foundation; Brian Harvey, Oxford School District Superintendent; (back row, from left to right); Lloyd Gray, Phil Hardin Foundation; Caroline Wicker Sims, Butler Snow; Dr. Michael Cormack, Barksdale Reading Institute; Dr. Linda Southward, Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center; Maggie Stevenson, Mississippi Public Broadcasting; Josh Davis, Delta Health Alliance. Not pictured: Dr. John Kelly, Mississippi State Board of Education Member and Gulfport Chief Administrative Officer; Corey Wiggins, Hope Enterprise Policy Institute.

Mississippi officials announced today that they will launch a statewide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative to encourage nonprofits, business leaders and schools to work together to support students reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade.

Senator Gray Tollison, chairman of the Mississippi Senate Education Committee, speaks at the launch of Mississippi's Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative.
Senator Gray Tollison, chairman of the Mississippi Senate Education Committee, speaks at the launch of Mississippi’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative.

A statewide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading will focus on promoting work in local communities that are interested in developing programs to enhance reading performance in partnership with schools. The goal is to create at least 10 community partnerships statewide. Currently, two communities, Oxford/Lafayette County and Gulfport, are participating in the initiative.

Dr. Kim Benton, chief academic officer at the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), said the campaign promotes community conversations and actions that benefit students.

“This is an effort to get grassroots community support for literacy. Helping students read on grade level is not just a school responsibility. It takes everyone working together to ensure student success,” she said.

Mississippi is one of several states to join the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network. The Campaign is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on an important predictor of school success and high school graduation—grade-level reading by the end of 3rd grade. As of August 2016, there are more than 285 communities in more than two dozen states participating.

Communities who choose to participate work together to create action plans for reading success that focus on these key areas:

  • School readiness
  • Attendance
  • Summer learning and after-school learning
  • 3rd grade reading

Dr. Angela Rutherford, University of Mississippi director of the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction at the University of Mississippi, said the state and national campaign efforts will provide supports to communities to make their programs successful.

“We know that not all students have access to high-quality preschool programs and they need additional support between Kindergarten and 3rd grade. Participating communities will have easy access to the national campaign and the proven and promising models, programs and strategies that have worked for students,” she said.

Mississippi’s statewide campaign grew out of the philanthropic community, specifically a group of grantmakers who are members of the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers, said Sammy Moon, coordinator for the association. The grantmakers united to design the statewide effort and to build the public-private partnership necessary for implementation.

“The fact that members of the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers worked collaboratively to move the effort from design to implementation is quite innovative within the philanthropic sector.  It is even more unique that several funders — the Phil Hardin Foundation, the Barksdale Reading Institute, the Molpus Foundation, the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the CREATE Foundation, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Corporation –have pooled resources to create a Small Grants Fund which will provide access to grants for local communities that become part of the statewide campaign.  It is a testament to the fact that we can accomplish more by working together than any one organization can do by itself,” Moon said.

The statewide initiative adds greater emphasis to grade-level reading in light of Mississippi’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act. The state law requires that a student scoring at the lowest achievement level on the 3rd Grade Reading Summative Assessment be retained in 3rd grade, unless the student meets the good cause exemptions specified in the law. The law was amended in 2016 and will require students starting in the 2018-2019 school year to score above the lowest two achievement levels in order to be promoted to the 4th grade.

For more information on how to develop a community program, contact Ashley Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, at msglreading@gmail.com or visit http://www.msgradelevelreading.com/.