Mississippi gets $2.4 million to improve reading teachers

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will get $2.4 million to subsidize summer programs for struggling readers and improve teachers' reading instruction methods.

The three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, announced Tuesday, would be channeled through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, relying on board-certified teachers to mentor other teachers and become literacy coaches.

The most immediate effort will be to aid districts running summer schools this year. Under a law taking effect this spring, Mississippi's 38,000 third-graders must reach basic reading proficiency to be promoted to fourth grade. When the state Board of Education sets the passing score on the reading test Thursday, thousands of third-graders are expected to fail.

But students will get two additional chances to pass the test and advance to fourth grade, including a testing period late in the summer. That's designed for struggling students who improve after summer school. However, it's unclear how many of Mississippi's 146 public school districts will run such programs. State Superintendent Carey Wright has said that's a local choice and that the Mississippi Department of Education isn't monitoring the number of summer schools.

William Buster, who runs Mississippi programs for the Kellogg Foundation, said the donor hopes to reach 30,000 students over three years, easing the number of students who might be held back.

"There was fear that there was going to be more harm because of the third-grade gate than good, initially," Buster said.

Michelle Accardi, the director of state policy and advocacy for the teacher certifying board, said the board expects to supply up to 30 board-certified teachers to 10 to 15 sites this summer. She said up to 100 noncertified teachers would be paid to attend and be mentored by the certified teachers.

She said those mentoring relationships would continue after the summer. She also said the board would pay for certified teachers to become literacy coaches. Some other state reading efforts have looked to literacy coaches to help improve teaching methods. Mississippi has 53 coaches in 78 schools this year, although some local districts have employed their own coaches. That number is supposed to rise to 78 coaches in 125 schools this fall. However, that's still only 30 percent of the 426 Mississippi public schools that teach students in grades K-3.

"When we were writing the grant, they were really struggling to fill literacy coach positions," Accardi said.

Mississippi has 3,740 board certified teachers, about 1 in every 10 teachers. Those who earn certification get an extra $6,000 a year in salary

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