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VOL. 39 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 23, 2015

Report card shows 88 percent Tennessee graduation rate

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Tennessee's high school graduation rate improved to 88 percent, the third consecutive year it's increased, but students in earlier grades continue to struggle in reading, according to a state report card released Thursday.

Besides the state's graduation rate, which was 87 percent last year, the 2015 report card shows achievement and growth of Tennessee school districts, student enrollment and ethnicity, and the percentage of students meeting college and career readiness benchmarks on the ACT.

The average ACT composite for Tennessee schools is 19.4. However, the report card shows 52 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 are not proficient in reading language.

In June, results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program showed that while high school students and seventh and eighth graders made gains in literacy, the state average in literacy declined in grades 3 through 6.

Education officials said at the time that the department had a strategic plan to address the literacy problem. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen elaborated on that plan in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.

She acknowledged the state has struggled to make significant gains in reading, and that it's taking a "long-term, multi-layered approach to literacy" that is part of the strategic plan.

"In the priority area of Early Foundations and Literacy, we will focus on strengthening literacy instruction and intervention for our youngest students, ensuring they have a foundation for success," McQueen said. "As part of our reading initiatives, we will provide quality, researched-based training and additional support to classroom teachers, as well as implement appropriate, high-quality interventions for students."

She said the plan will also revise the reading standards for teacher preparation programs and improve early grade assessments and tools to provide better information for d ecision-making.

As for the state's report card, McQueen said in the news release earlier Thursday that it's "important for the public to understand how schools in their communities are performing."

"They can see where we are excelling, in areas like graduation rate, and where we need to continue to improve as we seek to ensure all students are ready for postsecondary and the workplace," she said.

Jim Wrye is assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

He applauded the high graduation rate and said it's a "testament to the hard work of teachers," particularly so-called "graduation coaches" who he said are retired teachers brought back to help students stay in school.

"The issue with dropouts is rarely about academics," Wrye said. "It's much more about what's going on in that student's life, what's going on in their family life. And graduation coaches really work with students."

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