Petal School District ranks second in Kindergarten readiness


Kindergarten students in Petal School District earned the second highest average scores on the fall 2017 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, according to Mississippi Department of Education.

The high score was posted thanks to the district’s efforts to strengthen pre-K programs in the community.

Kindergartners in the district exceeded the fall target score of 530 that demonstrates kindergarten readiness. Petal students averaged 564, which was the second highest in the state.

Statewide, the average score on the fall 2017 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was 503. Only 20 of the state’s 144 school districts demonstrated an average score of 530 or above.

Nine of those 20 districts have invested in pre-K through the Early Learning Collaborative program.

Research from a four-year study show that 85 percent of students at the beginning of kindergarten with a score of 530 or above on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment are on track to become proficient readers by the end of third grade. 

Petal has an Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) in the district.

“Early childhood education and pre-K continues to be a strong focus in the Petal School District,” said Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon.

“Through our efforts, kindergarten students are coming better prepared to start school, which allows our teachers to take them to the next level. In addition, we are able to connect with families sooner to better foster positive communication before their K-12 experience begins.”

Mississippi’s ELC program serves close to 2,000 in 14 communities and has made Mississippi a national leader in early childhood education standards.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi’s ELCs for the past two years for meeting all 10 quality standards for preschool. Only six states earned this recognition.

“Quality pre-K experiences are essential to a student’s future academic success,” said Dr. Lee Childress, superintendent of Corinth School District, which boasted the third highest score. “Through our pre-K program, Corinth students are provided quality academic instruction and experiential opportunities that eliminate many of the emotional, social, and academic deficits that these children have when they start in our program. We find these children are better prepared for Kindergarten and continue to outperform those students who have not had a Pre-K experience.”

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment evaluates early literacy skills such as the ability to recognize letters and match letters to their sounds and a student’s recognition that print flows from left to right.           

Mississippi started testing incoming kindergarteners at the start of the school year in 2014. Though the test continues to show the majority of kindergarteners start school unprepared, students are showing incremental improvements.

Statewide, the percentage of students scoring kindergarten-ready has increased from 34.6 percent in 2014 to 36.9 percent in 2017. Students scoring below the target score has dropped from 65.4 in 2014 to 63.1 in 2017. 

Roughly half of Mississippi school districts offered pre-K in 2016-17.

Making high-quality early childhood education accessible to all children is one of the primary goals of the Mississippi State Board of Education Strategic Plan. 

“High-quality early childhood education is not only the pathway to kindergarten readiness, but it has a positive impact on academic achievement throughout a child’s education,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Several studies have estimated that for every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education programs, the return on investment ranges from $7 to $12. Investment on the front end pays dividends on the back end of a child’s education.”

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment is designed to provide parents, teachers and early childhood providers with a common understanding of what children know and are able to do upon entering school.

The purpose of the assessment is to improve the quality of classroom instruction for students based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

The assessment is broken into three parts to determine the rate of effectiveness for each collaborative, according to director of the Center for Families and Children DeDe Smith, including Mississippi K-3 Assessment Support System (MKAS), Learning Assessment Profile (LAP) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS).

MKAS and LAP each account for 25 points toward the readiness score. CLASS is worth 50 points of the score.



The Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013 requires the Mississippi Department of Education to adopt a minimum rate of readiness for each pre-kindergarten provider participating in the collaborative much reach in order to remain eligible for funding.

A score of 498 is the literacy readiness score recommended for students at the end of Pre-Kindergarten. Students with a score of 498 at the end of Pre-K have mastered 70 percent of the early literacy skills needed and are said to be on track to earn a 530 at the beginning of kindergarten and meet end of grade three reading expectations.

However, Smith said they aim to prepare students to leave the Petal Early Learning Collaborative with a score of 530, instead of aiming for the cut score of 498.

Smith points out that many skills are required of a student to be prepared for kindergarten in addition to literacy skills, including social and emotional development, physical development and health, language development and creative arts expression.

MKAS, the early literacy test, could earn the collaborative up to 25 points on the readiness assessment depending on percentage of students at or above 498 or the percent of students showing an average point gain of 98.

On the fall MKAS, 14 students in the C.H. Johnson and Petal Primary Pre-K classes scored at or above 498. Approximately 38 students scored at or above 498 on the winter assessment.



The next piece of the puzzle to determine kindergarten readiness is the LAP-3 assessment. It also accounts for 25 points of the score. The purpose of this is to assist teacher in assessing individual skill development in seven domains of development: gross motor, fine motor, pre-writing, cognitive, language, self-help and personal/social.

The results can help generate a detailed picture of a child’s developmental progress in the seven domains. This allows for the planning and implementation of developmentally appropriate activities.

LAP was designed to observe the development of individual children by providing tasks or situations typical of young children’s development that would interest the child and stimulate an observable response.

LAP-3 assesses 383 samples of behavior. The assessment is administered throughout the year at three different points and provides developmentally appropriate content.

“This is broader than academic development,” said Smith. “It hits developmental milestones and encompasses all pieces of the puzzle in readiness for school.”

Teachers begin with the 48 to 53 months section and continue through the assessment until children are unable to complete three or four tasks in a row. The teacher picks up where they left off on the next round.



The final piece of the puzzle is CLASS, which accounts for half of the points to determine the rate of effectiveness.

CLASS is an observation instrument developed to assess classroom quality in preschool to third grade classrooms. It is based on developmental theory and research suggesting that interactions between students and adults are the primary mechanism of student development and learning.

CLASS assesses three domains: emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support.

Someone is brought in to observe interactions between teachers and students. This part of the assessment happens in the spring only.

The emotional support domain encompasses positive climate, negative climate, teacher sensitivity and regard for student perspectives. Each is broken down and scored from low to high. For example, for positive climate, one would consider the relationship between the teacher and students, if he or she has a positive effect and positive communication and if teacher and child demonstrate respect for one another and score the teacher from low to high on each area.

Classroom organization is split into three areas, including behavior management, productivity and instructional learning formats. This domain scores teachers on things like their ability to be proactive about behavior problems, maximizing learning time and keeping with routine, preparation and teacher involvement and clarity.

Instructional support is comprised of concept development, quality of feedback and language modeling.


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