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Anderson County Schools continues to focus on raising reading levels during critical years

Data shows one in six children who are not reading at grade-level proficiency by third grade will not graduate from high school.

ANDERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Education plans to spend $100 million on a new literacy initiative.

It's an effort to help teachers and districts reach struggling readers called Reading 360. 

It comes at a time districts are working to strengthen literacy skills in young readers. 

Early literacy proficiency is key for a successful academic future. The pandemic has caused a lot of changes for students, especially ones going through critical learning years. 

Fall data from Anderson County Schools shows out of 308 first graders tested, 75% were below grade reading level, 6% were on grade level and 18% were above. 

"We knew we were going to have a big challenge especially with first grade assuming that would probably be the hardest hit since those were the kids that didn't get to finish kindergarten year," said academic coach Dara Wade. 

She said scores were better when it came to how much first graders carried into their next year.

Out of 306 second graders tested, 56% were below grade reading level, 7% were on grade level and 37% were above. 

"We anticipated exactly what we got," she said.

To combat lower reading levels, she said teachers began specific training last March. 

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"Our teachers did an online phonics and foundational skills training program to refresh what those skills are and how important they are into primary literacy," Wade said.

She expects scores will rise as students continue to adjust after making huge changes last year.

"January and February are typically the buckle down months where we get a lot of work done and see the most growth in our students," she said.

The school plans to continue following the curriculum that's already in place through the year.  

Data shows one in six children who are not reading at grade-level proficiency by third grade will not graduate from high school.