“By any measure, too many children in Tennessee struggle to read,” is the opening sentence of the report, Setting the Foundation.

readtobereadyTennessee stands out as a state that has been making dramatic gains in student achievement. From 2007 until now, the work of teachers, parents, policymakers, and community members has made a large, lasting, positive impact on the state of education in Tennessee. But challenges still remain.

While substantial gains were made in math and science scores and the state’s achievement gaps began to narrow, Tennessee’s reading scores stalled. At this point, Tennesseans, from community members to the Tennessee Department of Education to educators, took a step back to figure out how to solve this problem – one that many states across the country are struggling with as well.

Tennessee Commission of Education Candice McQueen has announced a sweeping literacy initiative, Read to Be Ready, to lift Tennessee reading scores by focusing on students in early grades. According to report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, improving literacy proficiency rates for early grades improves the likelihood of success toward later life milestones.

The Tennessee Department of Education with Governor Haslam and first lady Chrissy Haslam, and in partnership with other state departments and community partners, kicked off this initiative last month. The ambitious goal of Read to be Ready is for three-fourths of third-graders to be proficient in reading by 2025, an increase of about 25 percentage points.

The corresponding Setting the Foundation report identified a set of action steps for reaching this goal:

• A statewide model of literacy coaching
• A strong focus on literacy instruction among educator preparation programs
• Consistent student screening upon entry to kindergarten
• A second grade assessment aligned to Tennessee standards in literacy and numeracy
• A portfolio evaluation for early grade teachers
• Differentiated district support design to support strategic RTI2 implementation
• Collaborative research with a practice focus

The department has called on business and community partners to join in this work. readtobereadyCommunity and business partners have an important role in improving literacy in this state through helping Tennessee families provide high-quality early literacy experiences before and as those students start school. The Dollar General Foundation is demonstrating the importance of community partnership by donating $1 million to support summer reading programs for young students for the next three years. Applications for grants from this donation are being accepted through April 22.

The 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee report identified a need for the state to expand access to high-quality literacy instruction, and Read To Be Ready’s literacy coaching model and focus on literacy instruction in teacher and principal preparation programs are steps toward addressing the report’s findings.

Reading is a fundamental skill that prepares students to become lifelong learners. Tennessee has taken on challenges in education before with great success. Now we should turn our attention to making sure our students can read well early in their lives.

Our educators are not the only ones who can work to improve literacy for Tennessee students. Please go to the Read to Be Ready site for ideas on how you, your organization, or your business can support our students and be sure to share and follow the conversation with the hashtag: #ReadtobeReadytn.