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    Early Literacy is a Top Priority for Tennessee’s Schools and Students

    Friday, November 18, 2022 | 10:15am

    By Ryan Holt, State Board of Education Member for the Fifth Congressional District There’s no doubt that reading well by third grade is vital to a student’s future success. In fact, a long-term study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students not proficient in reading by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. This fact is especially concerning because only 36 percent of Tennessee third graders scored proficient in English language arts (ELA) last year. Evidence-based studies such as this, as well as COVID-19 school disruptions, led Tennessee officials to rethink our state’s early literacy strategy. As a parent with a son entering third grade in Tennessee public schools next year and another not far behind, I wanted to familiarize myself with Tennessee’s new literacy law. What I found was that while the law isn’t perfect, it includes multiple pathways and research-backed supports for more students to enter the fourth grade as the strong readers we all want them to be. Tennessee’s literacy law encourages the state, school districts, and schools to develop necessary interventions and supports for students not proficient in ELA. This is an opportunity for Tennessee to reenvision how we support students in the earliest and arguably most-critical stages of their education. It is my hope as a parent and State Board of Education member that clarity around this law will reduce parents’ anxieties and highlight some of the resources recently introduced to support their students. Third-grade students demonstrate their ELA proficiency on a test known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. Students are considered proficient with either an “on track” or “mastered” performance level on the TCAP. Students who score “approaching” or “below” could — if their families take no other action — be required to repeat the third grade. While this can sound alarming, there are multiple exemptions and alternative pathways to fourth-grade promotion that parents should know about. Schools and districts are encouraged to work with parents to give students the support they need to strengthen their reading skills and enter the fourth grade on time.

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