Early literacy is an important part of a child’s development. We know that a strong start in literacy acquisition is a positive predictor for achievement throughout a student’s academic career and also encourages lifelong learning. SCORE’s Priorities for Progress report identified improving early literacy as a top priority for Tennessee education.

Tennessee has put a significant focus on early literacy in recent years, and 2018 TNReady assessment results showed improvement in elementary English language arts (ELA) scores. This progress has been maintained through 2019 despite many states regressing in similar areas. However, research shows nearly two-thirds of the state’s third-graders are not proficient in reading. We still have far to go to reach the statewide goal of 75 percent of third-graders reading on grade level, and thankfully there are a number of groups and organizations doing innovative work to promote early literacy in Tennessee.

Tennesseans For Quality Early Education

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) was formed in 2015 and has since grown to include a large coalition and robust policy agenda reflecting the importance of the birth through third-grade continuum in preparing children for future academic success.

Research has demonstrated that early literacy and math skills as well as early workforce skills (such as cooperation and paying attention) at kindergarten entry affect future academic success. In their 2018 report, Building Blocks for a Prosperous Tennessee, TQEE outlined four policy priorities needs: engaged and empowered parents; quality, affordable childcare; excellent early grades teaching; and strong accountability systems. TQEE is dedicated to driving effective policy that improves and expands access to quality early education programs that promote early literacy in Tennessee.

Leading Innovation for Tennessee Education

Leading Innovation for Tennessee Education (LIFT), is a collective of district, school, and classroom leaders acr­­­­oss Tennessee who have been working since the spring of 2016 to provide teachers with high-quality, aligned instructional materials in English language arts (ELA) classrooms.

LIFT’s work has delivered notable results for students in Tennessee. As of today, more than three-quarters of collected ELA assignments align with grade-level standards, compared to fewer than 10 percent in the spring of 2016. In addition, eight out of twelve LIFT districts saw increases in the number of third-grade students scoring on track or mastered on the 2018-19 TNReady ELA assessment. LIFT recently released an annual report outlining what educators in the network learned over the course of this work and how they sustained their initial progress.  Those results are highlighted in a recent post on the SCORE Blog.

First 8

First 8 Memphis is a new organization supporting early education initiatives in Shelby County. The group stems from its parent entity Seeding Success and will oversee public and private collaboration in developing comprehensive programs that prepare children for kindergarten and aid them in reaching third-grade literacy benchmarks.

This year, the program will include 10 operators running 70 prekindergarten classrooms for about 1,400 of the county’s neediest four-year-olds, the majority of whom live in Memphis. A mixture of traditional and charter schools, the operators will rely on outcomes-based funding. Early-literacy growth, satisfactory attendance, and quarterly reporting will serve as metrics for these outcome evaluations. First 8 recently released Investing Early in Children and Families, a report outlining their strategies for successful early childhood development: early home visitation, high-quality childcare, and full-needs-based enrollment for pre-K.

Supporting and promoting early literacy across Tennessee is one of the key priorities in driving success for students in Tennessee. While we have work to do to bring all third-graders to an on-grade reading level, tremendous progress has been made thanks to the efforts of educators and organizations across the state who are dedicated to student success.

Oliver Sandreuter is an intern at SCORE.