JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Mississippi’s educators are rejoicing after tremendous gains in reading and math scores among fourth and eighth graders.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress found Mississippi in the top 10 rankings in reading and math. Among 2019 scores in fourth grade reading and math, Mississippi ranks number two and three.

These gains have been a surprise to most of the country, but one educator said this has been in the works for the past 10 years.

“In 2013, we really started looking at what we call the science of reading and that’s where we really did the research on how it is to teach our elementary students. Once we started using that science, that research, we really saw that our reading scores accelerated,” explained Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE).

Officials said focusing on comprehension, vocabulary and phonics, as well as instilling the science of reading methods, have proven pivotal in lifting up a state that has long suffered in education.

“We put more money into reading. We raised teacher pay. We put more money into public education. We’re seeing that that money is spent wisely, and now we’re seeing positive results,” said State Senator David Blount (D-District 29), who is a member of the Senate Education Committee. 

Governor Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) said, “Mississippi’s schools are doing such a great job that other states are now following our lead. We’re teaching other states how to teach.”

“We have states, such as Nevada, New Mexico, Delaware and Rhode Island, reaching out to us, gathering ideas on how they can implement these strategies also,” stated Jones.

These recent gains can be seen in graduation rates, too. In 2014, the Mississippi graduation rate was at 74.5%, which was well below the national average. Now, Mississippi’s graduation rate is at 88.9%, which is a full point above that national average and expected to rise.

However, there is one hurdle left for Mississippi schools: an ongoing teacher shortage.

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) reported 2,593 vacancies for the 2022-23 school year, which was a decrease in vacancies from the 2021-22 school year.

“We do have a shortage of teachers. That’s why it’s going to be so important that we rally behind public schools, that we put the resources there that are needed and that we do what we need to do with the legislature to attract and retain quality educators for our state,” stated Jones.

“We’ve got to make sure that that work environment is sound. We’ve got to protect the retirement system. We’ve got to help teachers pay off their college loan. Our students have shown our teachers have shown that they can show us real improvement,” said Blount.