Tennessee delivered a big win for our students today. Governor Lee and the members of the Tennessee Senate and House showed true leadership in putting education at the top of the agenda with a special session that has advanced a package of student-focused legislation. SCORE commends them and sincerely thanks you for the advocacy work that helped inform the proposals and secure their passage.
SCORE believes that the policies put in place by these bills are important first steps in delivering wider student success across Tennessee. The new laws will enable our state to take on some of the biggest challenges facing K-12 education – addressing Tennessee’s literacy crisis, hastening learning recovery from pandemic disruptions, continuing statewide assessment of student learning while installing a year of accountability flexibility, and increasing teacher compensation.
As we in Tennessee know from previous experience, new policies alone will not fully deliver on the goal of improving student achievement. Good policies benefit students most when they are implemented strongly, equitably, and with fidelity, and when districts and schools are provided clear and timely guidance.
The Tennessee Literacy Success Act will require intentional phonics instruction in the early grades and use of state-approved ELA curriculum, and it will improve educator preparation to ensure teacher candidates will enter the classroom knowing the science behind literacy instruction. Strong literacy efforts in Tennessee show also that students who are learning to read need to be able to both decode and comprehend words. The use of curriculum with challenging nonfiction texts about history and science help build knowledge – and because students love to learn new things, building knowledge also builds engagement. When school boards, districts, school leaders, and teachers ensure their students are supported with high-quality instructional materials, they are demonstrating the impact good implementation can have on students. I am confident that the combination of good policy and great implementation in time can help most Tennessee students learn to read well by the end of third grade.
The legislation to provide more learning time and address COVID-19-related learning loss offers supports and some guardrails to ensure that students who need the most help are the first to receive it. More extensive support for students struggling to read – screenings, family engagement, intervention, and efforts beyond those in the bill – must come before and after any retention decision. Great implementation of statewide assessment will deliver important information about student progress to help empower teachers to differentiate and improve instruction. The assessment data also should guide district and school leaders in targeting new and existing resources, in particular highly effective teaching, toward students who need these extended supports to have equitable opportunities to recover from the COVID-19 disruptions to learning.
As education advocates, we have accomplished much during the special session. The success we have seen from working together is inspiration to continue our focus and advocacy on fighting for policies that will support more students to success in school, college, career, and life.
David Mansouri is SCORE president and CEO.