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Mississippi, one of America’s poorest and least educated states, has shown great gains across the last decade. Longtime State Superintendent Carey Wright transformed the state’s school system through intense work, at the state and classroom l evel by raising learning standards, overhauling reading instruction, and reinventing professional development. Let’s take a look at how far they have come under Superintendent Wright’s leadership and their next steps as she moves into retirement at the end of the month:

  • Mississippi has long been criticized for its dismal achievement and concerning racial achievement gaps. 
  • Through the 2010s, Mississippi fourth graders charged from the back of the pack to the national average in both math and reading and eighth grader gains in math were among the largest of any state. And best of all, the prosperity was shared: Black and Hispanic students, including those from low-income families, made huge strides alongside their white and middle-class peers.
  • The transformation of one of America’s poorest and least-educated states into a fast-rising powerhouse took most outsiders by surprise.
  • In reality, Mississippi’s emergence in 2019 resulted from a generation of groundwork in both schools and state government, with incremental gains coming along the way.
  • Under Wright’s supervision, the Mississippi Department of Education introduced massive changes to instruction and adopted rigorous new learning standards.
  • Bigger and richer states are looking to Mississippi as a model.
  • The state’s remarkable success is partially attributable to its celebrated overhaul of reading pedagogy.
  • Hard-won improvement has mostly come from accepting hard truths and embracing accountability.

Key changes

  • Evidence-based literacy practices in Mississippi’s eight public teacher training programs. 
  • Mississippi joined 45 other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards in 2010.
  • Political shift changed the game in Mississippi with the The 2013 legislative session:
  • The state provided reading instruction guidance that pulled teachers together.

Standards focused

  • Mississippi Superintendent of Schools Carey Wright called rigorous academic standards her “bottom line.”
  • Existing standards were evaluated as the ‘worst in the nation’, fueling an aim at higher expectations.
  • Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards became the new policy.
  • The required score to pass the “reading gate” test in 2018 was increased resulting in one-quarter of the state’s third graders initially scored low enough to be retained

Goal realized

  • Preliminary data from this year’s round of state assessments suggests a strong COVID bounce-back.
  • Recent results from the literacy exam:
    • 73.9 percent of third graders passed the reading gate on their first try this year, nearly identical to the rate measured just before the pandemic. 
    • evidence that COVID’s tremendous disruption to K-12 coursework had not derailed the state’s long path to better performance.
    • Barksdale Reading Initiative announced that its founders would soon close its doors after mostly realizing their original goals.

Next Steps

  • Legislature signed a huge teacher pay raise in April.
  • More needs to be done for the dozens of school districts across the state that educate severely disadvantaged children.
  • We have to look at the bigger picture, the whole child, to understand that Mississippi can’t be defined by its reading scores.
  • Trends statewide appear positive as Wright prepares to hand off her duties.
  • “To know that the foundation has been laid in Mississippi is very, very gratifying,” Wright said.


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