HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Public School District is working to improve reading skills of students entering kindergarten.
Last year, only 27 percent of students started the school year kindergarten ready, according to Superintendent Robert Williams.
"This year we were able to move that to 54 percent, so that's 100 percent increase," he said. "But we're ending the year where we should start."
Kiana Pendleton, reading specialist for HPSD, said students take reading tests at the beginning and end of each school year to test reading proficiency and improvement. Pendleton said standards set by the Mississippi Department of Education students should score a 498 at the end of pre-kindergarten, a 530 at the beginning of kindergarten and 681 at the end of kindergarten to be considered literarily ready to move forward.
"Students that score a 498 are on track to meeting the 530 scale score for kindergarten, and furthermore, proficiency requirements at the end of third grade," Pendleton said. "From the pre-k and the kindergarten assessment, we can kind of gauge if those students are on the trajectory to meet the third grade reading requirements on the gate exam."
According to Hattiesburg's most recent data, students started pre-k scoring a 418 and ended the year scoring 521. In the three or so months between the end of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, Pendleton said MDE expects things social and emotional interactions, which contribute to early language development, during the summer to improve students' readiness. Hattiesburg students started kindergarten scoring a 485 and ended the year scoring a 687.
Pendleton also said each elementary school and the district as a whole increased the percentage of students passing the third grade reading test on their first try from 2015 to 2016.
While the improvement is good, Williams said the district needs more children starting the year ready.
The district can only enroll about 100 of the the most in need students in its pre-k classes, and about 300 attend HPSD elementary schools for kindergarten. Williams and school board members agree improvement starts by working with parents and private learning centers to be sure curriculum matches what students will need when they start formal school.
"This is where the rubber meets the road, so if we can get them early (that would help)," said board member Eric Steele.
Pendleton said, "We have some things in place to get these teachers trained and resources in hand that will improve the students' ability to read, decode words, so that they can actually decode the complex texts that are associated with the standards. I'm almost certain that these numbers will increase next school year."
Williams said having better reading skills earlier means success for both students and the district as a whole.
"If we're talking about moving the academic needle in our district, we need more kids starting ready," Williams said. "As we share out and work with the community on identifying those simple things, you know, colors, shapes, numbers and letters, those type things, that really will help us."
This summer is the first time the district has a summer reading program for students who will start kindergarten in the fall. The goal is to enroll 50 preschool students who didn't test kindergarten ready at the of the school year to get them up to speed. So far, 38 students are participating.