TN lawmakers discuss strengthening literacy standards as third-graders struggle with reading

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee lawmakers continue discussing education-related issues as part of a special session called by Gov. Bill Lee.

One issue being targeted is literacy deficiency, especially among third graders. One bill under consideration proposes holding students back if they don’t meet certain literacy requirements on standardized tests.

In a bill addressing learning loss, third graders not meeting certain thresholds for English Language Arts could be held back.

Governor Bill Lee is calling to strengthen literacy requirements as state testing scores show children struggling to read. According to another bill under consideration during the special session, in 2019, Tennessee’s third grade English language arts proficiency was at 36.9%.

Several other new initiatives to boost reading-proficiency, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges traditional learning, are being discussed at the special session. This includes the creation of the ‘Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps’ that would provide ongoing tutoring for students throughout the school year. Gov. Lee is also pushing to ensure a phonics-based approach to K-3 reading instruction.

Northeast Tennessee lawmakers expressed support Thursday afternoon for new literacy requirements.

“I think it’s great, I think it’s critical, because your ability to read, between first and third grade, you’re learning to read. After that, you’re reading to learn,” said Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).

Lundberg is vice-chair of the Senate’s Education Committee. He expressed optimism Thursday afternoon that the slate of bills addressing learning loss and pandemic-related issues faced by schools would advance.

“I think there is broad consensus as ‘this is the direction we need to go across the board,'” he said.

Third graders would need to achieve on-track or mastered scores on the English language arts portion of a state standardized test. Students who don’t pass could take the test again or try to improve through learning camps or tutoring programs, which would also be established under legislation pushed by the governor.

But if students still don’t meet reading requirements they could be retained. This standard would not begin until the 2022-2023 school year.

“We believe this is an excellent starting place to really get our kids in Tennessee back up to reading level,” said Rep. Tim Hicks (R-Gray).

Hicks said by delaying implementation of these new retention standards until 2022-2023, lawmakers will have the opportunity to update the legislation as needed.

“I’m in support of it. I am. They’re not going to start holding [kids] back for two years. There’s going to be plenty of time to get kids caught back up,” Hicks said. “There’s all kinds of summer programs, there’s tutoring. And all of this will be through the state funding.”

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