In the 2022 legislative session, the 112th General Assembly built on the foundation of the 2021 Tennessee Literacy Success Act, passing legislation to further strengthen reading support for K-3 students. The Tennessee Literacy Success Act aimed to ensure that reading instruction across the state is rooted in foundational literacy skills and also created stronger accountability for implementation. In 2022, lawmakers shifted their focus to better preparing teachers to teach students to read, bridging the gap between educator preparation and educator practice.

SCORE has been a strong advocate for improving literacy in Tennessee and aligning educator preparation practices to foundational literacy skills, including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. With six in ten of the state’s third graders not proficient in reading or writing, maintaining a commitment to high-quality literacy practices is critical as literacy proficiency at this age will impact future academic success. This year, SCORE supported three pieces of legislation intended to increase accountability around literacy instruction so that teachers are equipped with the skills to radically improve literacy rates.

Strengthening Educator Preparation In Literacy

Effective literacy instruction relies on educator training programs and an ongoing commitment to high-quality instructional practices. Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation to hold educator preparation providers (EPPs) accountable through annual EPP performance reports showing how well they are preparing teachers to teach reading. If an EPP is not implementing instruction aligned to foundational literacy skills, they may be required to implement a corrective action plan. To better align the instruction of teacher candidates with classroom expectations, the legislation also requires districts and charter schools to provide EPPs with an annual list of adopted English Language Arts textbooks and instructional materials. For a clearer picture of how EPPs are preparing teacher candidates for success on day one in the classroom, the law requires public reporting of teacher candidates’ first-time pass rates for Tennessee’s reading instruction test. Retaking credentialing exams is costly and may prevent individuals from making it to the classroom; this data will support licensure by providing critical insight into preparation.

Reporting On State And EPP Progress

Public reporting is one way we can understand progress toward our literacy goals. New legislation this year requires the state comptroller to annually report on the implementation of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act. This report will be publicly available on the comptroller’s website by November 1 each year, allowing the state to monitor how these laws are working and to gain insight toward improvements.

Third-grade reading proficiency is a critical milestone for future student success, making it vital that students receive high-quality literacy instruction in these early grades. New legislation incentivizes EPPs to increase the effectiveness of K-3 teachers by requiring public reporting of EPP performance. This law requires the Tennessee Department of Education to annually report Level of Overall Effectiveness (LOE) scores for K-3 license recipients once they enter the classroom, as well as performance trends over time. This reporting will highlight EPP expectations for reducing the number of K-3 educators performing below or significantly below expectations.

Looking Forward

The Tennessee General Assembly has taken strong steps to improve the state’s literacy rates through these three pieces of legislation and the 2021 Tennessee Literacy Success Act. These efforts not only target the instruction students receive in the classroom but also the preparation teachers receive before they reach the classroom — all while publicly reporting progress. This comprehensive approach reflects an intention to ensure all students, especially those in the pivotal K-3 grades, are proficient readers and set up for a successful academic future. We must continue pushing for stronger partnerships that prepare all educators to effectively teach reading so that all students are able to read on grade level, increasing their chances for success in education and the workforce.

Amanda Glover is SCORE’s senior policy analyst.

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