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Tennessee Department of Education Showcases Positive Statewide Momentum in First Year of Read to be Ready

Thursday, February 23, 2017 | 12:11pm

NASHVILLE—Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today celebrated the strong movement forward in year one of Read to be Ready, a statewide campaign with multiple initiatives focused on helping our youngest learners build a strong foundation in reading, and she shared successes and key practices from individual classrooms, as well as how the state is helping to take those to scale. 

At an event in Nashville that brought together state leaders, educators, and community members, the Tennessee Department of Education released Building the Framework: A Report on Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee, which provides recommendations to ensure Tennessee continues to move toward achieving its Read to be Ready goal for 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025. The most recent statewide assessment indicates that only 43 percent of students are proficient in reading when they leave third grade. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) shows that only 33 percent of Tennessee’s fourth graders are proficient in reading. This year’s TNReady test results for grades 3–8 are predicted to also show a proficiency drop as the state sets a new baseline from which to grow.

With the launch of Read to be Ready in February 2016, the department planned for a multi-year, multi-strategy approach to improving reading outcomes for our students.  This new report explores the meaningful action taken throughout Tennessee’s education system to support the goals of Read to be Ready. At the outset of the Read to be Ready initiatives, classroom observations in more than 150 elementary classrooms across the state showed that most educators had a narrow instructional focus on building students’ foundational reading skills—like phonics and word recognition—and little time was spent on equally necessary knowledge-based competencies, such as building vocabulary and listening and reading comprehension. Through Read to be Ready, the state is focusing educators on the integration of skills and knowledge-building as reflected in the state’s standards.

“Over the past year, we have seen a tremendous commitment to Read to be Ready across the state, and now we want to build on this enthusiasm to go deeper with teachers and strengthen instructional practices. The results of this report are both encouraging and a reminder about the work that lies ahead,” Commissioner McQueen said. “From the beginning of Read to be Ready, we have known that these deep and meaningful instructional shifts in our standards will take time. As a state, we are committed to supporting our teachers in this work for the long haul.”

While improving statewide reading proficiency will take time, the report notes that meaningful outcomes have already been observed in response to the focus brought through Read to be Ready. Based on case studies of districts experiencing initial success, the department offers takeaways for districts to improve literacy in their schools:

  1. System-level change is most likely to occur when there is a district-wide commitment to the work. 
  2. Instructional improvement benefits from a specific focus and a commitment to iterative learning. 
  3. District ownership and external expertise are not mutually exclusive.
  4. Individual programs should be aligned in support of the broader district improvement efforts. 

Since the launch of Read to be Ready, more than 200 teacher-coaches and two-thirds of Tennessee school districts have participated in a coaching network that is designed to provide intensive support and professional learning opportunities for educators focused on early grades reading, and the coaching network is expected to expand in the next year. These reading coaches work directly with more than 3,000 teachers to improve reading programs and practices in schools across the state.

A second initiative, the Read to be Ready summer grant program, started last year with 20 summer camps that targeted rising first, second and third graders who were not on grade level in reading. The state departments of Education and Human Services are partnering to expand the Read to Be Ready summer grant program through an investment of $30 million over the next three years. As many as 10,000 kids in up to 350 programs are expected to be served this summer alone.

For more information on Read to be Ready, contact Paige Atchley, Read to be Ready program director, at Paige.Atchley@tn.gov. For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or Sara.Gast@tn.gov.