When the General Assembly held a special session to consider a package of bills from Governor Lee that addressed the twin crises of COVID-19 and low early literacy proficiency rates, the policymakers acted swiftly to put new laws on the books. State and district leaders also will need to act swiftly to make the most of the opportunities these policies provide.
SCORE identified COVID-19 educational recovery and the state’s literacy crisis as top education priorities in the 2021 State Of Education In Tennessee report, and we applaud the decisive action by the governor and legislature. But as the State Of Education report also makes clear, the work does not end when new policies are passed. Implementation at the state and local levels is when the even harder work begins, and excellent implementation is critical for Tennessee students to receive the benefits of extended learning time and better approaches to literacy instruction.
State and district leaders face a long list of things that must be done well and quickly. After reviewing the new laws in detail, SCORE is offering recommendations to help guide state and district planning and decision-making. SCORE recommends the following for successful implementation of the Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act.
Timely information about summer program requirements. The law requires all school districts to offer summer school programs beginning in 2021. Districts must create comprehensive coordinated plans quickly, so it is vital that they get crucial guidance from TDOE quickly.
- By April 1, TDOE should provide leaders with clarity about how summer learning will be measured and what incentives they may offer for attendance. In order to strategically prioritize ESSER funds, districts need to know about all available funding for summer school, including for transportation or additional support staff such as nurses or translators, and guidance on allowable scope of services from community partnerships. Students must be provided with appropriate support services to ensure they are able to participate in and benefit from the summer learning opportunity.
- Districts should be incentivized to staff summer learning opportunities with highly effective teachers, and the state should collect and report out on the staffing to determine whether stronger incentives should be used in the future.
Rigorous training and implementation guidelines for districts for tutoring programs. The new tutoring program created in this legislation should be designed to follow the research, which points to the effectiveness of high-quality tutoring on student outcomes. Program design and rollout are key in getting results for students.
- TDOE should establish rigorous criteria for tutor selection modeled after Tennessee’s teacher licensure requirements, and districts should be encouraged to target recruitment efforts at licensed educators and/or preservice teacher candidates.
- Tutors should receive significant training that is aligned to Tennessee’s academic standards and prepares them to use high-quality instructional materials in their tutoring. This training and support should be ongoing.
- TDOE should provide tutoring implementation guidelines that include the timeline for rollout, hiring and selection criteria, training plans, and structure for tutoring programs. Research suggests a maximum ratio of one adult to four students, consistent tutor-student pairings to foster relationship building, and a frequency of at least three times per week.
- TDOE should empower districts to design, operate, and iterate on tutoring programs by identifying outcomes, enforcing shared data collection, and monitoring compliance.
Student-specific supports for the tougher state retention policy. It is critical for TDOE and districts to prioritize student-specific supports under the new state retention law. Current first-graders, many of whom have missed instructional time during kindergarten and first grade, will be the first students affected when the new retention policy goes into effect in 2023. Tennessee should look to lessons learned from other states with this type of retention policy and ensure earlier, more equitable supports are available for struggling students.
- Districts should develop student-specific plans rooted in evidence-based interventions for any student not meeting grade-level expectations prior to third grade.
- Students who are retained or at-risk of retention should be placed with a highly effective teacher and have access to tutoring support, and this should be encouraged through State Board policy.
- The state should annually and publicly report on the number and percentage of third-grade students who are retained and the number and percentage of students promoted to fourth grade with an exemption. This data should be publicly reported by various demographics, including race and exemption pathway.
To be sure, we believe that successful implementation will require a heavy and focused lift from all partners — from the TDOE and SBE, to districts, schools, and individual educators. As always, we will see the most success when the focus is on students and their success.
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.