One of SCORE’s priorities in the 2021 State of Education report is to treat literacy like the crisis it is. Our third installment of the legislative recap series summarizes the Tennessee Literacy Success Act (Public Chapter 3). Though the law was passed just months ago, districts and educator preparation programs are already preparing to implement it this fall.
During the January special session of the 112th General Assembly, the legislature and Governor Bill Lee responded with urgency by enacting legislation that addresses Tennessee’s literacy crisis. The Tennessee Literacy Success Act has the potential to improve literacy outcomes across Tennessee by ensuring that:
- Every student has access to texts that help build knowledge and receives intentional phonics instruction
- Students struggling to read receive extensive support and intervention
- Every K-3 teacher has the training they need to best support their students to learn to read
- Parents, teachers, communities, and state-level leaders have information about literacy achievement prior to the third-grade TCAP
A Strong Foundation For Literacy
The Tennessee Literacy Success Act lays a strong foundation to improve literacy instruction through these key levers:
- Codifies a Tennessee approach to reading instruction centered around foundational literacy skills instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension
- Requires Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and charter schools to develop and receive approval for a K-5 foundational skills literacy instruction plan that includes devoted instructional time for literacy, high-quality instructional materials, universal screenings parent notification, additional supports for identified students, and professional development for teachers
- Requires LEAs and charter schools to administer a universal reading screener three times per year to all K-3 students to identify students with a significant reading deficiency
- Outlines a process for LEAs and charter schools to notify and engage parents and to provide instructional supports for any K-5 student identified as having a significant reading deficiency
- Establishes new licensure requirements for K-3 teachers and directs the Tennessee Department of Education to develop and the State Board to approve foundational literacy skills standards for educator preparation programs leading to a license to teach in grades K-3
- Requires reporting to the legislature and the public about K-12 literacy practices as well as an analysis of literacy instruction at educator preparation providers
Ensuring Strong Implementation
As with any new policy, the language of the law alone will not be enough to reach our goal of doubling the number of third-graders reading on grade level. But the promise of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act will only be realized by honoring the intent of the legislation and through the hard work of educators across Tennessee. SCORE has four priorities for strong implementation of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act:
- Revise the literacy standards for educator preparation programs to align to both the theory and practice of teaching reading, along with rigorous state oversight for fidelity to those standards
- Select a state-specific licensure exam that ensures K-3 teachers can demonstrate knowledge of how to apply systematic reading instruction
- Provide a high-quality professional development course accessible to all K-5 teachers
- Select a Tennessee-specific screener for measuring skills that includes tools to help educators and parents understand student progress
While much more remains to be done to ensure that every Tennessee student realizes success in school, college, career, and life, passage of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act is a tremendous step forward for early literacy in Tennessee.
Aleah Guthrie is SCORE’s senior director of policy and government relations.