Tennessee Kids Can’t Read

That’s the narrative you hear coming from policymakers and some advocates who suggest Tennessee’s third grade reading scores indicate trouble. While there is certainly room for improvement, the rest of the available information simply does not align with these claims. Here’s an example of one such claim from the Tennessee Department of Education regarding third- and fourth-grade reading scores:

Overall, less than half of our third and fourth graders are reading on grade level based on state tests

As former educator and state legislator Gloria Johnson explains, that’s simply not the case based on available evidence:

The 2019 NAEP scores are out, they test kids a few months in to the 4th grade year. The 2019 test shows that 66% of TN 4th (3 1/2) graders are reading on grade level. Sure, I’d like to see it higher, we have work to do. In 8th grade it’s 73%.

However, when you hear someone say only 33% of 3rd graders are reading on grade level (and I hear it constantly), how could that be possible? How could 33% more get on grade level in a couple of months? Are our 4th grade teachers wizards?

No, people either don’t understand how to read the results or they are intentionally being misleading. According to NAEP’s groupings, Basic means reading on grade level. Proficient on NAEP means “demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter,” which experts interpret as high achievement.

What does that mean? 66% of kids read on grade level on the NAEP test. Don’t let someone try to give you that lower number, it’s not accurate, correct them.

You can see the 2019 scores here..


Now I just have to get the Education Committee on board because the “experts” feeding them info aren’t very expert.

You can find plenty of articles explaining this, here is one.

Johnson raises a great point: If NAEP says 66% of our kids are reading at grade level in fourth grade, why does TNReady suggest less than half of third graders read at grade level? These numbers don’t match.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support — $5 or more today — helps make publishing education news possible.

2 thoughts on “Tennessee Kids Can’t Read

  1. This is what NAEP says about Basic: This level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.

    So basic means they are only part of the way reading. Not something to celebrate.

    • I think it is important to accurately describe what we’re talking about — when we say kids are not proficient, it doesn’t mean they can’t read or are NOT reading at grade level. In fact, as your post indicates, kids reading at “basic” are in fact demonstrating some mastery of concepts… is every kid proficient in every concept? Certainly, we should want our kids to reach proficiency (as defined by NAEP), but the suggestion that not reaching proficiency on NAEP is indicative of some great failing is just wrong. As Commissioner Schwinn noted, the largest challenges come from rural students and low-income students — that is, those are the children most likely to struggle… we should absolutely be concerned about the number of kids reading at a below basic level — that means they’ve not even partially mastered the key concepts. And we should pay attention to the basic/below basic numbers and where they are coming from.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.