Episode 24 - Beyond the NAEP: Mississippi’s Literacy Growth with Kristen Wynn

Episode Summary

Join Kristen Wynn, Mississippi’s State Literacy Director and The Windward Institute’s 2021 Fall Community Lecturer, as she details the story of how the state transformed literacy outcomes for its students. Reflecting upon her story with her son who was diagnosed with dyslexia and her early career as a teacher and interventionist, Ms. Wynn discusses her personal journey to learn about the Science of Reading. She outlines the literacy policy reform that began at the state level and explains how it was disseminated strategically to districts and schools. Ms. Wynn discusses how professional development and a state-facilitated literacy coaching program shaped teacher practices, classrooms, and cultures of schools for the betterment of their students. Finally, she shares how the state innovated teaching and professional learning practices to support families and children during the pandemic. This READ conversation with Kristen Wynn offers hope and applicable lessons for every state, district, and school to disrupt the educational status quo to promote literacy for all students.

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.” 

"I believe past experiences prepare us for future purposes."

Kristen Wynn tells the story of the implementation of the Science of Reading and supporting practices at scale in Mississippi through policy reform, professional development, and complete community involvement.

"We talk about a focus on literacy, but you can't have a focus on literacy or create this vision for literacy for your state if you don't involve your community, your families, and your other stakeholders in your efforts."

1. State Literacy Initiatives 

In an effort to address the alarming rates of struggling readers across the state, Mississippi enacted several key policies since 2013 including:

  • Early Learning Collaborative Act: establishes collaborative pre-K programs between early childhood centers and public schools in underserved communities
  • Kindergarten readiness assessment: implements screening and assessments of reading progress across the year
  • Dyslexia scholarships: requires districts to screen students for dyslexia in kindergarten and provides school choice for students with dyslexia (K-12)
  • Literacy-Based Promotion Act: focuses on educator training in scientifically validated reading instruction, coaching for teachers, early identification, and prevention over retention of reading difficulties

"I am a firm and strong believer that with any type of change comes challenges, but the old way, the whole language approach, wasn't working for us in Mississippi."

Other key characteristics of policies and strategic implementation involve increasing awareness about reading disabilities such as dyslexia and broadening participation and commitment to supporting literacy outcomes for students in all communities throughout Mississippi.

"When a new law rolls out, you must come up with a strategic plan of implementation. A law's only as great as its implementation of it." 

2. Fast Facts About Mississippi’s Coaching Program

  • The literacy coaching program, a hallmark of Mississippi’s state-facilitated professional development, supports teachers in how to understand the Science of Reading and implement supported research-based practices (i.e. structured literacy).

"In Mississippi, we had to make changes and provide teachers with what many of us did not receive in our teacher prep programs - a deep dive into what the research and science say about how students learned to read."

  • Kristen Wynn was one of the first literacy coaches trained in scientifically validated reading instruction. The program began in 2013 and sought 75 literacy coaches experienced in the Science of Reading and research-based reading practices. Of over 500 applicants, 24 were initially hired.
  • The coaching program is both grounded in the standards facilitated by the state department and occurs across a continuum based on the needs of local schools. Each school has a coaching and professional development support plan through a School Literacy Action Plan (S.L.A.P.).
  • The real secret to Mississippi’s successful coaching program… TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS. When coaches enter each school, foster relationships with school administrators, instructional leaders and curriculum coordinators, and teachers.

"Our coaching model is grounded in relationships. We understand the importance of building trust and rapport with teachers because our coaches are not coaches of administrators, they're coaches of teachers."

3. Supporting Families and Teachers During COVID-19

To support equity and access to literacy instruction during the pandemic, Mississippi developed innovative programs for families and teachers including:

  • partnerships with other agencies and organizations such as the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Network and Barksdale Reading Institute
  • statewide family virtual trainings as part of a campaign, Strong Readers, Strong Leaders
  • series of live professional development webinars for educators that integrated with coaching and professional learning communities across schools

"We can learn from each other… It took a team to do all of this and our team in Mississippi works together so well. Without a great team, all of this could not be accomplished."



Learn more about the Mississippi Department of Education
Literacy Professional Development and Resources

Learn more about the Strong Readers, Strong Leaders campaign

Read Results of Educator Training in Mississippi Educator outcomes associated with implementation of Mississippi’s K–3 early literacy professional development initiative

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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.