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Rutherford Appointed to Mississippi Reading Panel

UM literacy education experts among designees for statewide reading assessment panel

Angela Rutherford reads with a group of 4-year-olds at the Willie Price Lab School at The University of Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications
Angela Rutherford reads with a group of 4-year-olds at the Willie Price Lab School at The University of Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi literacy education scholar Angela Rutherford is among six people appointed to an expert panel to work with the Mississippi Department of Education to recommend new standardized assessment tools for public K-3 reading programs.

The Mississippi Reading Panel was established by MDE as part of the Literacy-Based Promotion Act signed into law last spring. The act is designed to improve student achievement in reading by hiring new literacy coaches throughout the state, implementing new teaching methodologies and assessments and stopping promotion to the fourth grade for children who read below their grade level.

As recently as 2012, MDE’s testing data showed nearly 47 percent of Mississippi third-graders read below level.

“For me, this is an opportunity to help make an impact on literacy education throughout Mississippi,” said Rutherford, an associate professor of teacher education who also serves as the director of UM’sCenter for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, or CELI, and Willie Price Lab School. “This appointment falls in line with my passion to help support every child in learning to read.”

A faculty member at the UM School of Education – Mississippi’s largest producer of teachers and educational leaders – since 2004, Rutherford was selected to serve on the six-person panel as the designee of state Sen. Gray Tollison, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“Dr. Rutherford is an expert in early literacy and having her expertise, I believe, will be critical in helping achieve successful third-grade reading in Mississippi,” Tollison explained. “It’s very important that we implement the new curriculum the right way and equip school districts with the right tools to make sure children are reading on grade level.”

In the past year, Tollison and Rutherford have worked together to draft proposed literacy education legislation. The senator cited Rutherford’s successes with CELI, including its role in helping Dundee Elementary School in Tunica transform its language arts program from a struggling one to award-winning in 2011, as reasons for his selection of Rutherford.

In coming months, the panel will review proposals for standardized assessment tools, recommend cut scores to determine promotion to fourth grade and recommend makeup opportunities for children who do not take standardized tests for unforeseen reasons. The group will also provide input to MDE for the adoption of a universal screener required for use in targeted schools.

“I want to be able to advocate for both the students and the teachers,” Rutherford said. “Every child in Mississippi deserves an equal chance to learn how to read. That also means every teacher should be equally supported when they are in the field.”

The five other Reading Panel members were appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant, Interim State Superintendent of Education Lynn House and Rep. John Moore, chair of the Mississippi House of Representative’s Education Committee.

The other designees include Interim Deputy State Superintendent of Education Kim Benton (House), who will be the panel’s chair; Claiborne Barksdale of the Barksdale Reading Institute (Bryant); Robin Lemonis (House), MDE director for dyslexia, literacy and early childhood education; and Melinda Boyd (Moore), a dyslexia therapist.

— Andrew Abernathy, Ole Miss News Desk

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