Mississippi is leading the nation with improvements in K-12 educational outcomes and policy changes at the state level helped push the state’s students over the top.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Magnolia State earned the top spot for fourth grade gains on reading and mathematics on the NAEP tests. It was the first time that Mississippi fourth graders earned a score higher (241) than the national average (240) in mathematics and tied the national average in reading (219).

Mississippi was the only state with measurable gains in three of four tested subjects on the tests, which are also called the nation’s report card.

Mississippi eighth graders ranked third nationally for growth in mathematics and reading in the same grade level held steady as the average dropped nationally. 

In 2009, only 22 percent of fourth graders were at or above proficiency level in reading. That sparked some changes at the state level. 

The Literacy-Based Promotion Act— better known as the Third Grade Reading Gate —played a large role in Mississippi’s improvement in fourth grade reading. The law was passed in 2013 and signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant as one of his bigger educational initiatives. 

The reading gate legislation mandates that third graders read at or above grade level to be promoted to the fourth grade. The bill also provides help such as reading coaches to districts with large numbers of struggling students. There are 80 MDE literacy coaches serving 182 schools statewide.

In 2019, 32 percent of fourth graders met or exceeded the reading standard. 

This year, taxpayers will spend $15,094,500 on the literacy program. Last year, 36,384 third graders took the reading test, which got tougher this year, and 27,215 (74.8 percent of test takers) earned a passing or better grade on the test. 

In 2018, 25,000 out of 40,500 third graders (61.73 percent) scored a passing or better grade on the reading test. 

In 2009, only 22 percent of Mississippi fourth graders met or exceeded the standard on the mathematics test. Now, 39 percent of students meet that standard statewide. 

Eighth graders also improved, with 25 percent of them meeting the standards in 2019 for reading after only 19 percent made the grade in 2009. Twenty four percent of Mississippi eighth graders reached or exceeded the standard for math, a nine percent improvement from 2009 (15 percent).

Mississippi is still substandard (274) for eighth grade math compared with the national average of 281. Magnolia State eighth graders averaged a grade of 256 on the reading test, still below the national average of 262. That’s still better than 2015, when Mississippi eighth graders managed only a 252.

The District of Columbia had the lowest score for eighth grade reading (250), while Alabama had the lowest score for math at 269.

Minnesota had the highest scores for fourth grade math (248), while Massachusetts (231) earned the top spot for fourth grade reading. Alaska had the lowest score for fourth grade reading (204), while Alabama fourth graders had the worst score for math (230). 

Louisiana, West Virginia and New Mexico tied for next worst in math with scores of 231.