State Launches Initiative to Nearly Double Reading Proficiency in Third Grade By 2025

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 | 04:17pm

NASHVILLE—Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen joined Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam today to kick off “Read to be Ready,” a statewide campaign focused on the critical value of reading.

Over the past several years, student performance on the English language arts TCAP has remained stagnant or declined. By the end of third grade, only 43 percent of students in Tennessee are reading on grade level. Of the almost 6,000 Tennessee students rated below basic in third grade English language arts, less than three percent reach proficiency by fifth grade. However, students who are reading proficiently by third grade are four times more likely than their peers to graduate from high school by age 19 and go on to postsecondary.

The goal of the Read to be Ready initiative is to move third grade reading proficiency in Tennessee to 75 percent by 2025. While we know building literacy starts long before a child begins third grade and continues long past it, third grade is a valuable benchmark to predict future outcomes for our students. (Read more on elementary grades reading in Tennessee in the department report, “Setting the Foundation.”)

“Tennessee students have shown incredible growth since 2011, but reading remains a challenging area that we have to get right,” Gov. Haslam said. “Currently, less than half of our third through eighth grade students are meeting proficiency in reading, and more than half of our students are heading into high school without the ability to read proficiently. We can do better, and we have to do better both for these individual students and to reach our educational and job attainment goals as a state.”

Read to be Ready is a coordinated approach that addresses everything from classroom instruction, to teacher preparation, to adult literacy rates, to school-community-parent partnerships for after-school and summer programs. Using third grade reading as the benchmark, the Read to be Ready campaign seeks to do the following:

  • Raise awareness about the importance of reading.
  • Unite efforts to address the reading gap.
  • Highlight best practices from across our state.
  • Lay out ways each of us can begin to address these issues.
  • Build partnerships across communities to align to our goal.

Gov. Haslam has proposed a $9 million investment to the General Assembly to create a network of literacy coaches and regional coordinators supporting literacy efforts all across the state. This is in addition to the department’s commitment to partnering with higher education to refine and strengthen literacy standards for new teachers as well as providing support to existing teachers on intervening and strengthening literacy skills in students that are already behind.

“Teachers must have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to teach decoding and the act of reading words on a page while simultaneously emphasizing that reading is about making meaning, understanding rich vocabulary, improving thinking, and opening the world to our students, “ Commissioner McQueen said. “We have to approach this work from multiple angles, strengthening the training that our teachers receive, deepening community partnerships to provide support for students and families after school and during the summer, as well as preparing our youngest students with early literacy skills before they ever enter a classroom.”

“Working together to improve third grade reading is one of the best ways to make sure Tennessee children are ready for success,” First Lady Haslam said. “This is not something government can do alone. I believe our leaders, teachers, principals, families, businesses, and communities can work together to make a difference for students.”

Tennessee-based company Dollar General Corporation announced at the kick-off event on Wednesday a $1 million donation through its Dollar General Literacy Foundation to fund summer reading initiatives across the state.

For more information, please contact Ashley Ball at (615) 532-6260 or