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Cursive handwriting is making a comeback in Tennessee, with performance benchmarks in the works to guide the teaching of the fading art to students.

Proposed cursive standards that would begin in second grade, accelerate through third grade and finish in fourth grade received preliminary approval Friday from the Tennessee State Board of Education.

The model will now be shared with Tennessee teachers, principals and other educators before the board takes up the policy for a final time in October.

Though there's been a shift to the computer keyboard in culture and in the classroom, education officials took up the matter after a bill sponsored by Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, unexpectedly won widespread support at the Tennessee General Assembly this spring, eventually landing on Gov. Bill Haslam's desk for his signature.

The law loosely requires its instruction "at the appropriate grade level," leaving that determination to the department of education.

Under the proposed standards, students would be expected to show they can write "many" upper- and lowercase in cursive at the end of second grade, demonstrate mastery in all letters at the end of third grade and write legibly in cursive at the end of fourth grade.

Emily Barton, assistant commissioner of curriculum and instruction at the department of education, said the timeline for cursive came after reviewing laws in other states and research. Previous cursive standards in Tennessee lacked performance indicators.

"We looked to Tennessee educators to weigh in on the question of, 'What would work best in our state?'" Barton said.

How teachers incorporate cursive in their curriculum will be up to them and their schools. Tennessee has similar standards for writing in print/manuscript and using the keyboard.

Butt, who had estimated about half of all Tennessee schools had abandoned cursive, argued that, as a result, kids have trouble even reading handwritten notes from teachers — never mind deciphering the Bill of Rights in its original form.

Tennessee is among more than 40 states that adopted and has stuck with Common Core academic standards, which do not require cursive. Other states have taken actions to add it, though, recognizing that the infiltration of technology has displaced a former rite of passage in the classroom.

While final approval of the standards could be coming in October, the state board would decide when to make them go into effect.

Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.

TEACHER LICENSE POLICY

The state board of education Friday gave final approval to a revamped teacher license policy that will let teachers who perform well on annual teacher evaluations bypass required professional development credits to renew professional licenses.

The new policy also streamlines the number of licenses.

The vote ends a months-long process to draft a new model after the state legislature this spring voted to upend a policy backed by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman that would have allowed the non-renewal of licenses because of poor evaluation marks or low student learning gains.

The Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest organization of teachers, pushed for its reversal. Even though the new version isn't punitive and is completely voluntary, TEA announced this week that it opposes it anyway — a sign of the group's complete rejection of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment, which accounts for 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation score.

"The important thing here is to recognize that a teacher can choose the direction that they want to go in for renewal or advancement," board chairman Fielding Rolston said.

FOOD-BASED FUNDRAISERS

The state board of education approved on final reading Friday a new cap of 30 days in which schools in Tennessee can hold-food-based fundraisers on their campuses.

The action puts the state in compliance with many of the new guidelines outlined in the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which went into effect this month.

The law, which seeks to promote healthy eating among children, gave the U.S. agriculture secretary new jurisdiction over an entire school's campus in addition to the cafeteria. It allows "infrequent" school-based food fundraisers in which special items can be sold, but requires states to establish a number of days.

The new cap will apply to schools this year.

PROPOSED STANDARDS FOR LEARNING CURSIVE

In second grade: Students learn "many" upper- and lowercase letters.

In third grade: Students master all letters.

In fourth grade: Students learn to write legibly in cursive.

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