A student who is a strong reader and writer has the foundational building blocks to excel not only in school but also in postsecondary studies and jobs. Research has shown that literacy is vital for students’ lifelong success. For instance, low literacy levels often prevent high school students from mastering and completing other subjects.

In Tennessee, we know improving literacy rates is mission-critical to continue to help students achieve at higher levels in school and beyond. Only a third of Tennessee students demonstrate literacy proficiency by the end of third grade. Three years ago, the state set a goal of having 75 percent of third-graders reading on or above grade level by 2025. Tennesseans across the state also emphasized the need to develop every student into a strong reader and writer as SCORE gathered feedback for Excellence For All: How Tennessee Can Lift Our Students To Best In The Nation.

Since that report was issued with a priority on literacy, we have seen increased – and necessary – attention on work to ensure that students are prepared and supported to become excellent readers and writers in the early grades.

Leading Innovation For Tennessee (LIFT) Education has been focusing on improving reading in the early grades through classroom strategies, practices, and curriculum. LIFT’s work was highlighted in the Learning Forward’s report: High-Quality Curricula and Team-Based Professional Learning: A Perfect Partnership for Equity. The report emphasizes LIFT’s findings that strong, high-quality materials that are aligned to Tennessee’s rigorous state standards are vital to drive significant improvements in early literacy instruction.

The Core Knowledge Foundation recently visited Sullivan County Schools, a LIFT district, to witness some of their practices in action. Sullivan County has seen incredible progress in Kindergarten reading levels during the 2017-18 school year resulting from their strategic focus to strengthen early literacy instruction and provide high-quality materials and curriculum to educators.

This summer marks the third year of the Read to be Ready initiative. And, in April, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) published First Steps: A Report On Elementary Grades Reading In Tennessee to analyze statewide progress and continued challenge areas to reach the literacy rate goal by 2025. In the third episode of The TNth Period, a podcast about the latest Tennessee education research, co-hosts Erin O’Hara and Laura Booker discussed the TDOE report and spoke with educators about statewide literacy progress.

Also, two Tennessee reading competitions are encouraging students and parents to combat summer slide – the tendency for students to lose some of the learning gained from the past year during summer break. Tennessee First Lady’s Statewide Reading Competition kicked off on June 1. All Tennessee K-4 students can track their reading minutes from June 1 – July 27 to compete to be one of Tennessee’s top 100 readers. The 100 winners will be invited to a celebratory dinner with the Governor and First Lady at the Tennessee Residence in Nashville.

In addition, TriStar Reads is hosting its annual summer reading competition. All Tennessee students ages 5-18 are invited to spend at least 20 minutes each day reading and logging the hours on their website. The competition runs May 1 – September 7 and students are eligible to win one of three $1,000 scholarships.

Tennessee has opportunities for growth to ensure that all students have strong literacy foundations and to continue to build their reading skills through graduation. However, there are multiple promising efforts underway statewide to support all students to becoming strong readers and writers.