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Literacy law looms as TDOE report card shows proficiency rates still below pre-pandemic levels

In Tennessee, 43% of students have shown increases in their English proficiency, according to the report card.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee released its state report card this week. It tracks achievement markers for students between kindergarten and 12th grade. The report card said 34% of students score high enough to at least  "meet expectations" on state English and math exams. That is up from 2021 when 28% of students met expectations. However, it does not surpass pre-pandemic levels.

It still means the majority of third-grade students could be at risk of being held back.

"It's a very alarming statistic when you sit there and you look at a class of 20 students and you think 12 of them are not proficient, meaning not reading on grade level. That is worrisome, " said Dara Wade, an academic coach at Anderson County Schools.

Anderson County had increased its literacy efforts over the past few years. It introduced summer school and camps three summers ago and added new literacy coaches. It also changed the approach to reading for kids that may be falling behind.

"We have teaching assistants now that are helping lower the ratio, our teachers are just looking for any way they can to help boost these kids along," Wade said. "And we have really added a new layer of early literacy instruction to our youngest readers. So we are making sure that when they are in kindergarten, first, and second grade — they are getting every tool they need to be successful as readers."

But, despite all those efforts, school staff still feel the pending proficiency policy looming. The literacy law does not take effect until the end of the 2022-23 school year. Once it does, it will require students who don't score well on standardized tests to either go into summer school, attend tutoring, or repeat the third grade.

"We're not in favor of this law at all," Wade said.

"How many extra third-grade classes are we going to need?" said Representative Gloria Johnson (D - Knoxville).

Johnson was also a teacher in Knox County Schools. She said she believes a test score should not define student success.

"One day out of 180 days a year doesn't tell you something new about that kid. Those teachers know those kids. They are with them every day," Johnson said.

She believes other factors need to go into the decision to hold a child back, rather than just a test score. She also points to social skills, motivation and maturity as reasons why some kids should stay with classes their age.

As the Tennessee State Report Card shows, more than half the of students in the third grade would be subject to retake the school year.

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