Why Read to be Ready?
Tennessee has made tremendous gains in student performance over the past several years – except in reading. Despite our educators’ best efforts, reading skills in elementary school learners have failed to improve, and in some cases have even declined. But these abilities are some of the most important ones our students need, and they are foundational to their success.
This problem shows up early. Overall, less than half of our third and fourth graders are reading on grade level based on state tests, and more rigorous national assessments suggest that only one-third of our fourth graders are proficient – an unacceptable outcome in a state that has prided itself on being the fastest improving in the nation. Achievement gaps are also striking: only one-third of economically disadvantaged students and just one in every five of our students with disabilities achieve proficiency by the end of third grade. English learners are not advancing as quickly their native-speaking peers. On top of that, too often, students who start behind stay behind: state data tell us that less than 3 percent of students at the lowest reading performance level in third grade catch up by grade five.
Over the long term, national research shows that children who are not reading proficiently by third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19. Dropping out of high school severely damages earnings and job market appeal, and it impacts chances of leading a healthy and productive life, in addition to increasing odds of incarceration, poverty, and single parenting. This cripples not just our students’ future, but our state’s as well.
We have different vision for the future. We not only want to teach our children to read – we want to develop them into the thinkers, problem-solvers, lifelong learners, and future leaders of Tennessee. And it will take all of us to get there.