Study: Mississippi Professional Development Initiative Significantly Improves Quality of K–3 Teacher Instruction, Student Engagement

Posted on May 17, 2017

  • Literacy
  • research
VSL News

DALLAS, May 17, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A statewide early literacy professional development initiative by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is showing dramatic improvement in the quality of teacher instruction and student engagement, according to a study recently released by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast administered by Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University.

In the wake of the state’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act of 2013 (LBPA), which called for all Mississippi students to read at grade level by the end of grade 3, MDE began providing professional development and literacy coaching to all K–3 educators using the LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) program from Voyager Sopris Learning®. According to the 18-month REL Southeast study, teachers who participated in the LETRS professional development program through online and face-to-face workshops:

Gained knowledge of early literacy skills;
Improved the quality of their early literacy skills instruction; and
Saw better student engagement during instruction.

At the end of the study, educators who had not started the program were in the 54th percentile on the Teacher Knowledge of Early Literacy Skills survey, whereas educators who had completed it were in the 65th percentile. In targeted high-need schools, during observations conducted by state literacy coaches, ratings of quality increased from the 31st percentile to the 58th percentile, student engagement increased from the 37th percentile to the 53rd percentile, and mastery of teaching competencies increased from the 30th percentile to the 44th percentile.

The new report comes on the heels of last year’s MDE study, “Strong Readers = Strong Leaders,” which documented how the LBPA had a major impact with steadily improving statewide test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It, too, documented the integral role played by LETRS, which MDE began using for professional development for its K–3 teachers beginning in spring 2014.

LETRS provides our teachers with a better understanding of teaching literacy,” said Vicki Conley, Principal, Dawson Elementary School in Jackson, Miss. “We use the many research-based strategies to enhance daily instruction. We also utilize the modules for ongoing professional development. Our student retention rate has decreased by 68 percent after consistently using the LETRS strategies.”

Jeffrey A. Elliott, President of Voyager Sopris Learning, said his company values the ongoing partnership with the State of Mississippi and is delighted with the new REL Southeast report. “The study—which provides an independent and objective analysis—illustrates how a comprehensive and sustained approach to PD is effective in raising teacher competencies in literacy instruction,” Elliott said. “The research results speak clearly to something we know: LETRS works. Moreover, this initiative isn’t about providing short-term gains but building the base for long-term, systemic change throughout school districts in the state.”

Prior to the implementation of the Literacy Act in 2003, only 55 percent of grade 4 students in Mississippi were reading at or above grade level. Mississippi showed a significant increase in 4th grade reading on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card, one of only 13 states that had a significant increase since 2013. NAEP assessments are administered every two years.

“The change in teacher knowledge and classroom practices reported in the REL study is very encouraging for teachers and students of Mississippi,” said Dr. Janet Macpherson, Voyager Sopris' Vice President of Research and Product Effectiveness. “The Mississippi Department of Education has made a strong commitment to its teachers by providing high-quality professional development and to its students who will benefit from teachers with increased knowledge of early literacy skills that is translating into changes in classroom practices and student engagement.”

At Earl Travillion Attendance Center, an elementary school in Hattiesburg, Miss., Principal Kristina Pollard said the series of LETRS trainings has allowed her leadership team to step back and re-evaluate reading plans. “We looked for explicit instruction when evaluating learning outcomes for students,” Pollard said. “LETRS helped my team to see phonics as the big umbrella and to also focus on the areas that fall under that umbrella. We've seen successful growth with our students by using the practices from LETRS. Implementing LETRS materials and exercises only continues to add to the success of our students wherever they may fall on the learning continuum.”

Authored by renowned literacy expert Dr. Louisa Moats, LETRS provides the deep foundational knowledge necessary to understand how students learn to read, write, and spell—and why some of them struggle.

The REL Southeast study, “Educator outcomes associated with implementation of Mississippi’s K-3 early literacy professional development initiative,” can be downloaded by visiting

For more information on Voyager Sopris Learning, visit For more information on LETRS, visit

About Voyager Sopris Learning
Voyager Sopris Learning® is committed to partnering with school districts to meet and surpass their goals for student achievement. The suite of instructional and service solutions we provide is not only research based, but also evidence based—proven to increase student achievement and educator effectiveness. Our solutions have been fully tested in the classroom, ensuring that they are easy to implement and teacher friendly. They are innovative, both in overall instructional approach and in the strategic use of technology in blended and 100 percent online solutions, and they are supported by an unparalleled commitment to build local capacity for sustained success. With a comprehensive suite of instructional resources, we provide assessments, professional development and literacy and math instructional tools—both comprehensive intervention and supplemental—and resources to build a positive school climate. Voyager Sopris Learning is a business unit of Cambium Learning® Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABCD), based in Dallas, Texas.

For more information, visit, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

About Cambium Learning Group, Inc.
Cambium Learning® Group is a leading educational solutions and services company committed to helping all students reach their full potential. Cambium Learning accomplishes this goal by providing evidence-based solutions and expert professional services to empower educators and raise the achievement levels of all students. The company’s award-winning brands include: Learning A-Z® (, ExploreLearning®(, Kurzweil Education® (, and Voyager Sopris Learning® (, which, together, provide breakthrough technology solutions for students and teachers—including best-in-class intervention and supplemental instructional programs; gold-standard professional development; valid and reliable assessments; and products that enable access to learning for all students.  Cambium Learning Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:ABCD), is based in Dallas, Texas. For more information, visit


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Ileana Rowe
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Barbara Benson
Chief Financial Officer
Cambium Learning Group, Inc.

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