Mis­sis­sippi must boost kinder­garten readi­ness

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Nation & World - NORTH­EAST MIS­SIS­SIPPI DAILY JOUR­NAL, TUPELO

Ear­lier this month, the Mis­sis­sippi De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­leased the re­sults of a kinder­garten readi­ness test taken by stu­dents across the state at the be­gin­ning of the school year.

The test was im­ple­mented by state Su­per­in­ten­dent of Ed­u­ca­tion Carey Wright af­ter tak­ing lead­er­ship of the state’s schools. It is de­signed to mea­sure the ef­fec­tive­ness of early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in the state. And its re­sults re­veal much about the need to ex­pand pre-K pro­grams in Mis­sis­sippi.

Be­cause stu­dents take the test at the be­gin­ning of their kinder­garten year, the data does not re­flect on the kinder­garten pro­gram of the school where they took the test. Rather, it gives ed­u­ca­tional lead­ers in­sight into how well they were pre­pared to start school.

And the data was once again dis­cour­ag­ing.

The per­cent­age of stu­dents who scored kinder­garten-ready was 36.1 per­cent in 2018, com­pared to 36.9 per­cent in 2017 and 36.4 per­cent in 2016.

Re­search shows that a test score of 530 in­di­cates stu­dents are on track to be­come pro­fi­cient read­ers by the end of third grade. How­ever, only 16 of 141 school districts notched an av­er­age score of at least 530.

It’s no se­cret that Mis­sis­sippi’s ed­u­ca­tional scores rank at the bot­tom of the na­tion. But part of the prob­lem is that its stu­dents start so far be­hind where they need to be.

That only com­pounds the chal­lenge for the state’s ed­u­ca­tors to bring them up to the grade-level stan­dards.

Mis­sis­sippi must do more to pro­vide ro­bust, high­qual­ity pre-K pro­grams to large num­bers of stu­dents through­out the state. The state was among the last in the coun­try to pro­vide any fund­ing for pre-K. The pro­gram it even­tu­ally put into place — which pro­vides grant funds to pub­lic and pri­vate pre-K early ed­u­ca­tion col­lab­o­ra­tives — has shown great suc­cess. In fact, the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Early Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search rec­og­nized Mis­sis­sippi this spring as one of five states whose pub­licly funded pre-K pro­grams meet nine of NIEER’s 10 qual­ity stan­dards for early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion.

The prob­lem is it’s too small. When the Leg­is­la­ture first passed the Early Learn­ing Col­lab­o­ra­tive Act in 2013, it pro­vided $3 mil­lion for the pro­gram. That fund­ing was in­creased to $6.5 mil­lion for the cur­rent fis­cal year.

The pro­gram only served 3 per­cent of 4-year-olds in 2016-17. Com­bined with district-funded pre-K pro­grams, about 16 per­cent of Mis­sis­sippi 4-year-olds at­tended pub­lic pre-K pro­grams in 2016-17.

Mis­sis­sippi must fur­ther in­vest in this pro­gram and find other ways to en­sure the vast ma­jor­ity of its pupils en­ter kinder­garten in a po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful.

Why the dis­clo­sure dis­par­ity at fed­eral agen­cies? Hard to say, though the USDA has long been crit­i­cized by con­sumer ad­vo­cates for be­ing too cozy with the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try it is tasked with reg­u­lat­ing. “This out­break is just an­other ex­am­ple of the USDA putting cor­po­rate in­ter­ests over the health of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a state­ment last week. She is push­ing leg­is­la­tion to de­fine an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant sal­monella as an adul­ter­ant in poul­try prod­ucts, which would make them sub­ject to USDA’s manda­tory re­call author­ity. Multi-drug re­sis­tance has be­come a real threat to hu­man health be­cause of heavy use of an­tibi­otics to pre­vent dis­ease in poul­try and live­stock.

For now, it’s best to be ex­cep­tion­ally care­ful with turkey and closely fol­low cook­ing and safe han­dling rec­om­men­da­tions. The same ap­plies to chicken: The CDC is track­ing an out­break of an­tibi­oti­cre­sis­tant sal­monella that has been re­ported in 29 states among 92 peo­ple who con­sumed var­i­ous chicken prod­ucts. The same strain has been found in sam­ples from 58 undis­closed chicken pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

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