DOE continues to ramp up reading proficiency efforts

Published 5:11 pm Friday, March 3, 2017

A positive movement in Nashville continues forward for the education of the state’s youth.
Tennessee Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen attended an event in Nashville near the end of February to celebrate the momentum throughout year one of “Read to be Ready.”
According to the most recent statewide assessment, only 43 percent students are proficient in reading when they leave the third grade. The Tennessee Department of Education released “Building the Framework: A Report on Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee” in February, providing recommendations to ensure Tennessee continues to move toward the goal of 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025.
The National Assessment of Education also indicated that only 33 percent of Tennessee’s fourth graders are proficient in reading. According to the department, this year’s TNReady test results for grades 3-8 are predicted to show a proficiency drop as the state sets a new baseline from which to grow.
Ready to be Ready was the department’s plan for multi-year, multi-strategy approach to improve reading outcomes for students.
The report released by the DOE showed that while improving proficiency will take time, “meaningful outcomes have already been observed in response to the focus brought through Read to be Ready.”
The outcomes include:
• System-level change is most likely to occur when there is a district wide commitment to the work
• Instructional improvement benefits from a specific focus and commitment to iterative learning
• District ownership and external expertise are not mutually exclusive
• Individual programs should be aligned in support of broader district improvement efforts.
With reading coaches in place within the school system locally, Anna Hurley, district reading coach for Elizabethton City Schools, stressed the importance of the state’s program.
“Read to be Ready has brought back to the forefront the importance of intentionally structured, balanced literacy blocks in teaching reading and writing,” Hurley said. “On a regular basis, teachers will teach literacy skills through cyclical units of interactive read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, interactive speaking, listening activities, foundational skill instruction and independent reading and writing activities.”
According to the DOE, more than 200 teacher-coaches and two-thirds of Tennessee School districts have participated in a coaching network that is designed to provide intensive support and professional learning opportunities for educators focused on early grades reading. The department also expects the coaching network to expand next year.
“With the lack of growth in Tennessee’s reading scores over the last several years, the DOE has recognized that something must be done,” Hurley said. “Dr. McQueen’s vision for early foundations and literacy growth, specifically in Read to be Ready, is refreshing acknowledgement that laying a strong foundation of literacy for all students will increase the likelihood of their success throughout their education and on into their lives. Strong readers and writers are strong thinkers, and this statewide campaign will help with that.”
Work can also start before children reach school, Hurley said.
“Before children begin school, the most powerful tool parents have for teaching their children to read is simply reading aloud to them,” Hurley said. “20-30 minutes a day of reading aloud to preschool-aged children has been shown to greatly increase their capacity for learning to read once they enter school.”
And the same principle holds true for school-aged children when it comes to family involvement, Hurley added.
“Either read to them or encourage them to read for 20-30 minutes a day once at home,” she said. “Encourage them to talk with you about their reading … better yet, if possible, read the same books or authors they are reading to engage them in great conversations about their books.”
Sometimes a book may not interest a student, the coach added, but she said that parents shouldn’t worry if their child doesn’t read like another child.
“Don’t panic because your child doesn’t read like someone else’s child does,” Hurley said. “Each learner is different. Continue to support your child’s reading development by reading aloud to him or her.”
Hurley also added families can take their children to the library or even take part in the Imagination Library to receive free books for a child.
“If your child doesn’t seem to like books you have to offer, do not give up,” she said. “In the history of the world, we have never had as many books, genres and authors from which to choose. Your child will find something that interests him or her.”
A second initiative by the DOE, the Read to be Ready summer grant program, was unveiled last year with 20 summer camps targeted. The education and human services are partnering this year to expand the summer grant program through an investment of $30 million over the next three years with as many as 10,000 kids in up to 350 programs expected to be served through this summer.

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