Governor's plan to increase third grade literacy questioned in committee

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Posted at 7:52 PM, Feb 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-25 21:44:40-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A plan to lift Tennessee's stagnant literacy rates for third graders faced an hour and a half of questioning in a state committee Tuesday afternoon.

Lawmakers questioned the program that would change the way students learn to read in Tennessee. It would put more of a focus on phonics, which is the way many learned to read for decades.

"Right now we know that about a third of our third graders can read on grade level and so we think there's a real sense of urgency," said Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. "I want to make sure that our teachers have what they need to provide every single student with access to the best possible education."

Commissioner Schwinn said in the committee meeting she would like to see that rate increased to 55%.

Lawmakers asked questions like what would happen to students who were found to be below the reading level. Also, how would the state calculate reading comprehension?

Nashville Representative Harold Love worried the bill may take away state control. It would have interventions for students who are falling behind.

"There's concerns about when you say that a child could not be promoted they're not literate then they're going to be held back but there's an intervention available for them," said Love. "We want to make sure the intervention can be done in a time when the kids can get it all in their system. We want to also make sure there's proper funding for the intervention."

Others said they worried about whether or not the legislation would reach too far.

"I think if they would deregulate our classrooms and let our teachers teach I think we would see happy teachers, happier students and less testing and better test scores and less money," said Tammy Sharp, a school board member from Rutherford County.

No vote happened at Tuesday's committee. Schwinn said she appreciated the questions as they will allow the department of education to improve the bill.