Imagine the following scenario in a Tennessee classroom.

Five second graders need extra support in literacy. Per Tennessee guidelines, three of them, who scored between the 26th-40th percentile on a literacy assessment, receive high-dosage tutoring (HDT). They spend 30 minutes with a certified educator taking turns reading aloud, responding to questions, practicing tricky spellings, and receiving feedback on their work. The tutoring session is joyful, with students smiling and supporting each other while learning lessons from the same high-quality instructional materials they are expected to master from their core literacy block.

The other two students, who scored much lower — between the 1st-10th percentile on their literacy assessment — participate in a support setting known as Tier 3. Occasionally turning to observe the positive dynamic across the room, the Tier 3 group spends 45 minutes each day working to improve their literacy skills independently with a computer program — a program that does not align to the high-quality instructional materials used in their core literacy block.

This type of academic support creates instructional incoherence for the state’s youngest and lowest-performing students. In addition to learning content that may be different from their core literacy block, these students must also master multiple practice routines and instructional formats as they learn to read.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Given Tennessee’s strong literacy policies and practices around adoption of high-quality instructional materials, use of foundational skills instruction, and specific training for all early literacy educators, our state has a unique opportunity to expand the current vision for excellent K-3 literacy instruction to all students in all academic support settings.

SCORE’s new report, Early Literacy Success For All Students: A Coherent Path Forward, points toward this opportunity through an approach known as “instructional coherence.” Rather than offering students something different in an academic support setting, it adheres to a principle that students who are academically behind should receive additional time and support with the foundational literacy skills, texts, and tasks that align to core instruction.

Student growth on universal literacy screeners from four Tennessee districts during the 2022-23 school year point to the potential power of this approach. Results show that students who performed in the lowest range grew more, on average, when they used high-quality instructional materials aligned to their core literacy block in a high-dosage tutoring setting.

In simple terms this means that, for students who are furthest behind, learning could be maximized by providing them instructionally coherent small-group support through high-dosage tutoring — which takes 90 minutes a week compared to the 150-300 minutes currently allocated for Tier 2 and Tier 3 structures.

To work toward this new model of early literacy academic support, this report offers recommendations for how Tennessee can integrate all of its current systems, structures, and policies to maximize support for students. In this integrated model: 

  • Tennessee’s Response To Instruction And Intervention Framework (RTI2 Framework) is understood as the process for establishing and monitoring a student’s need for support beyond the core literacy block.
  • District adopted high-quality instructional materials aligned to the core literacy block also serve as the content and progress monitoring materials in academic support settings.
  • High-dosage tutoring becomes the structure through which students receive support — ensuring it aligns to the research on maximum group size, frequency, and duration.

In addition to the report, SCORE has developed a K-3 Literacy Instructional Coherence Toolkit that includes guidance and resources that districts, schools, and educators can use to create more instructionally coherent experiences for students. A recording of our recent webinar on instructional coherence is also available to view. These and other resources are available in one convenient location on our website.

SCORE is excited to share this report and these resources. Reach out to us at with questions or to learn more. 

Karen Lawrence is SCORE’s senior director of networks and partnerships.