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Department Releases Highlights from Year 2 of Read to be Ready and New Areas of Focus

New report shows progress across state; department announces next steps to support high-quality classroom instruction
Wednesday, April 25, 2018 | 01:05pm

NASHVILLE—Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today highlighted the encouraging progress made in year two of Read to be Ready, a statewide campaign with multiple initiatives focused on helping our youngest learners build a strong foundation in reading. Commissioner McQueen also shared an overview of Tennessee’s progress and next steps in the department’s work for the coming year.

At an event in Nashville focused on early literacy that brought together state leaders, educators, and community members, the department released its latest report, First Steps: A Report on Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee. This report provides recommendations to ensure Tennessee is on track to achieving the goal laid out through Read to be Ready for at least 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025. The most recent TNReady assessment set a new baseline from which students can grow, and the results show that only 35 percent of Tennessee students are proficient in reading by the end of third grade. For the first time, this more rigorous state assessment aligns to the results we have seen from The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which reports that only 36 percent of Tennessee’s fourth graders are proficient in reading.

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 further the goals of Read to be Ready and the ways the department has, and will continue to, support educators throughout this process.

“Though we are still in the early phases of this work, I am encouraged by the progress and commitment we have seen to Read to be Ready, especially from our educators and school leaders,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We know that with the right supports through coaching and professional learning and through access to high quality instructional materials, our teachers will continue to improve and more students will become proficient readers. As this work advances, we will continue to reflect on our progress so we can learn how to best keep moving our educators and students forward.”

The First Steps report presents a detailed analysis of our state’s progress since the launch of Read to be Ready, including findings both from the 2016–17 state assessment and from classroom observations. Findings from these observations and assessment data point to three priority areas of instructional improvement to guide the department’s work in the next year:

  1. high-quality texts selected to build conceptual knowledge;
  2. question sequences and tasks that build critical thinking skills and meet the demands of the standards; and
  3. explicit and sequential foundational skills instruction with opportunities to practice with connected text in reading and writing.

For greater detail and on each of these priority areas, the department has put together one-pagers that provide a deeper explanation of the topic and guiding questions for coaches and leaders.

While improving statewide reading proficiency will take time, the report notes that some meaningful shifts in practice have already been observed in response to the focus brought through Read to be Ready. Looking forward, engaging key partners, such as teachers, district and school leaders, and educator preparation providers, around targeted strategies will best set our state up for success. The report lays out three areas of focus for each of the three partner groups that align with the instructional priorities identified from observation and assessment data.

Key next steps for the department are supporting teachers in foundational skills instruction and in the selection of strategic texts, questions, and tasks to build student knowledge. This support will be guided through the Ready with Resources initiative that will include working with district and school leaders on quality materials selection and strengthening professional learning efforts designed to help teachers improve their instruction. It will also include the release of additional supports, such as more unit starters, and supporting alignment of expectations with elementary school principals and educator preparation providers.

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.

Additionally, the Read to be Ready summer grant program started in 2016 with 20 summer camps that served rising first, second and third graders who were not on grade level in reading. The following year, the state departments of Education and Human Services partnered to expand the Read to Be Ready summer grant program so that in 2017 over 8,000 students were served across 200 summer camp sites. For summer 2018, the state has awarded more than $8.8 million to support 203 summer camps in public schools across Tennessee.

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, director of communications, at (615) 532-6260 or Sara.Gast@tn.gov.