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SCS’ focus on 3rd grade reading skills, learning loss

Shelby County Schools has a new plan to ensure more students enter third grade at third-grade reading level. 

The plan comes as the state strengthens laws on student retention.

Starting in 2022, the new law requires students to be held back in second grade if they can’t read at a third-grade level by the end of the school year.

(Third grade is a strong indicator of a child’s educational outcome. In 2018, SCS data showed 21.4 percent of third graders were reading on grade level.)

Third Grade Commitment – the SCS plan to measure reading ability in four areas – lines up with state efforts to improve student literacy and reduce retention. 

SCS will assess a child’s reading level using four methods: 

(1) report cards,

(2) universal screenings, 

(3) diagnostic exams, and the

(4) second grade end-of-year exam (TNReady for English Language Arts).

District leaders strongly uphold assessing students in four key areas, which is different from the state’s policy to only use TNReady results to evaluate students.

SCS will run universal screenings and diagnostic exams three times a year – fall, winter and spring – to help parents and students track reading progress.

With emphasis on K-2 instruction, teachers will receive training support and educational assistants will be added to classrooms to reduce student-to-teacher ratios – vital for academic success. 

Dr. Antonio Burt (Courtesy photo)

“We feel our policy allows us to have a holistic view around where kids are,” said Antonio Burt, SCS chief academic officer.

“More importantly, it makes sure parents are fully informed of where they are at a particular time of year and what they need to improve their performance. … 

“Reading preparation and instruction not only takes place at school, but has to continue to take place away from school as well.”

To keep parents engaged, SCS provides monthly virtual family forums and will schedule community meetings throughout the city starting in April or May. 

SCS officials will coach parents on policies guiding student promotion and retention, and provide information on new state laws regulating retention.

Parents will also receive district and state retention policies at SCS book drives and other family engagement events. 

In 2022, the new Tennessee law says a third-grader won’t be able to pass to fourth grade unless he/she has a Lexile score from 520 to 820. 

If the student falls below 520, he/she will be kept in third grade.

(Lexile is a framework used by schools to measure student reading ability. The tool calculates difficulty of text, or the student’s reading level.)

Burt stressed that – to improve reading skills – students should practice not just at school, but in everyday life. 

“The more awareness we can have around the importance of early literacy, the proper resources needed and the amount of time that needs to be devoted, I think our kids will get to the level they need to be.”


3rd Grade Commitment English


Learning loss addressed

Nationwide, COVID-19 triggered some learning loss among students who were forced to switch from in-class instruction to virtual learning in the last year. 

School districts are moving to offset learning deficits in reading, math and other subjects through tools such as summer learning camps.

SCS will offer four-week summer sessions for incoming first grade to eighth grade students.

From July 5 to July 30, students can attend class offerings five days per week, seven hours per day. 

Summer learning camps will be held at school sites.

Students will take a pre-assessment exam and then a post-assessment test to measure performance upon entry and skill-level at camp’s end.

Teachers will differentiate individual student needs just as they do year-round. 

“There won’t be a one-size-fits-all,” said Burt.

TNReady assessments, which will be administered in April, will be a strong indicator of student performance prior to summer camp. 

The New Tri-State Defender questioned Burt about the challenge to improving learning loss. 

Said Burt: “The challenge may be ‘urgency and awareness’ around extending the learning of reading in all phases of one’s life.”

(For more information, visit: http://www.scsk12.org/.)

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