April 5, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Barksdale Reading Institute (BRI), in partnership with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, has released a Statewide Report on teacher preparation for early literacy instruction in the state’s 15 public and private colleges and universities. The study titled Statewide Report for the Study of Teacher Preparation for Early Literacy Instruction revisits a similar study completed by the BRI in 2002. The previous study led to the implementation of a required 6-hours in Early Literacy. The 2015 review is distinct in its depth and focus on early literacy. The study team observed undergraduate reading methods courses, interviewed 119 faculty, reviewed over 80 syllabi and 45 textbooks, conducted twenty teacher candidate focus groups, and observed recent graduates now teaching in K-3 classrooms.
The study resulted in confidential institutional reports with recommendations prepared by an eight-member study team for each of Mississippi’s teacher preparation programs, as well as the Statewide aggregate report (available for download at www.msreads.org). Teacher preparation programs have received a fair share of public scrutiny in recent years, and the BRI aimed to engender trust and candor in this process that would spur to needed programmatic changes. “Of particular significance in this project has been the broad spirit of transparency and cooperation from the education deans and faculty,” reported Kelly Butler, Study Coordinator for BRI. “Our team was heartened by the level of participation and what it portends for program improvement.” Dr. Ann Blackwell, Dean of the College of Education and Psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi echoed this sentiment: “The University of Southern Mississippi welcomes external evaluation of our academic programs. The collaborative engagement of educator preparation programs in the Study demonstrates the commitment these programs have to continuous improvement, focused in this project on early literacy instruction and its impact on children’s reading achievement.”
Upon receiving the study results, Dr. Glenn Boyce, IHL Commissioner, expressed his support for action: “I appreciate greatly the work that went into the Statewide Report. From a practical standpoint if a child’s instruction and assessment starts bad, the remediation necessary to fix the problem grows exponentially with each passing year. We need to assure that reading for all children “starts” right. From my perspective [the Statewide Report] needs to serve as a catalyst for change.” Mississippi continues to rank at or near the bottom in measures of student reading achievement (National Assessment of Educational Progress 2015).
Building on the work of the Mississippi Legislature in enacting the Literacy Based Promotion Act, the study led to nine key findings, including an improved level of emphasis on the five essential components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The study also highlights a serious gap in the understanding and application of evidence-based practices for early reading instruction both in teacher preparation and in K-3 field experiences.
The report culminated in several major recommendations:
- Adopt research-based practices at every level of reading education (specifically those practices endorsed by the National Reading Panel);
- Improve P-20 educator knowledge and communications to better inform policy; &
- Repurpose the state’s Reading Panel to include educators and literacy experts from all levels of the system to oversee the credentialing of undergraduate instructors assigned to teach early literacy courses.
“Just as children can’t guess their way to reading,” says Jim Barksdale, founder of The Barksdale Reading institute, “teachers can’t guess their way to teaching. I hope—that everyone will take this report, give it the attention that it deserves, and then work to implement the big ideas it lays out. It won’t be easy and we understand that there will be some resistance, but BRI stands ready to work with all of the various institutions to do our part.” Already, BRI has conducted meetings with the schools of education deans both collectively and individually to review study findings and act upon their individual report recommendations. These sessions underscore the urgency our schools of education feel in improving their programs and accelerating student reading achievement in Mississippi.
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