Huge Gains Aside, Tennessee’s Reading Scores Are Abysmally Low

The darker the shade of purple, the larger the achievement gap between low- and high-income students. Credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation

The darker the shade of purple, the larger the achievement gap between low- and high-income students. Credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation

A new study shows Tennessee’s 4th grade reading scores have improved over the last decade at one of the fastest rates in the nation. But given how far behind the state began, those gains just bring the students’ scores even with the national average. And researchers say that average grade is unacceptably low.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation looked at performance on a national test, known as NAEP. In particular, it focused how many students did not score well enough to be considered proficient. In 2003, almost 3-quarters of Tennessee’s 4th graders failed to reach the mark. Ten years later, the report shows the state posted an 11 percent improvement, but that still means 2 out of 3 are not proficient in reading. What’s more, the gap between the scores of poor kids and their more economically stable peers remains especially large in Tennessee, with fully 80 percent of low-income kids unable to make the grade.

In November, Governor Bill Haslam celebrated the latest NAEP results, that for the first time ever showed Tennessee schools the fastest improving in the nation. But in every age group and subject area, the state continues to perform in the bottom half—if not the bottom quarter—of the nation.

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