The state’s early literacy crisis, in which six out of ten third-graders are not meeting expectations for reading and writing proficiency, received much needed action from Governor Lee and the General Assembly with the enactment of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act in January.
SCORE has been advocating for improved literacy policy for many years through work with the LIFT network and reports like Urgency For Literacy and the annual State Of Education In Tennessee, and we are encouraged by the way policymakers have met this challenge head on. The law requires meaningful changes in literacy instruction and learning support, and state and local leaders will need to provide strong implementation to position K-3 teachers and students for success.
State and district leaders face a long list of things that must be done well and quickly. After a detailed review of the literacy law and a companion measure to combat learning loss from COVID-19, SCORE is offering recommendations to help guide state and district planning and decision-making. SCORE recommends the following for successful implementation of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act.
High-quality professional development grounded in foundational literacy skills for K-5 teachers. Under the new law, K-5 teachers must complete a professional development course on foundational literacy skills provided by the TDOE. Because the state training for this summer has a limited number of slots, TDOE should provide clarity for those educators who are unable to participate in the summer training.
A high-quality, Tennessee-specific screener for measuring skills and monitoring student progress. The law specifies the state must offer districts at no charge a universal screening tool for measuring skills and monitoring student progress. TDOE must rapidly select a high-quality Tennessee-specific screener, and it is critical that this screener include tools to help educators analyze and act on student data, as well as communicate transparently with parents about their student’s progress in literacy. With the fast approach of the Fall 2021 deadline for districts to have the screener, the department should tap into the expertise of districts leaders who have been effectively using screeners to quickly select the screener and communicate the decision to districts.
Literacy standards for prospective teachers strongly aligned to the research-supported theory and practice of teaching reading. The law directs TDOE to develop and submit educator preparation program literacy standards to the State Board for review and approval. TDOE should collaborate with the State Board and leaders and faculty at educator preparation programs this spring to revise the current educator preparation program literacy standards to ensure full alignment with research-based practices.
A Tennessee-specific reading instruction test for prospective K-3 teachers to demonstrate foundational literacy skills. The law directs TDOE to develop or select a reading instruction test for K-3 teachers. By selecting or developing this educator licensure exam, TDOE should ensure it assesses a candidate’s knowledge of how to apply systematic reading instruction to students.
Looking ahead, SCORE recognizes that the promise of these policies will only be realized for students through strong and effective implementation. SCORE will continue to monitor implementation of these policies and report out on progress against the above recommendations. We stand ready to support district and state leaders as they work to provide all students the best opportunities to succeed.
Dr. Sharon Roberts is SCORE’s chief K-12 impact officer.