Tennessee Literacy Month shines a light on early literacy need in response to post-COVID decline in reading proficiency

September 8, 2021

In honor of Tennessee Literacy Month in September, Governor Bill Lee and Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation encourage Tennesseans to help strengthen early literacy across the state

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — September is Tennessee Literacy Month, and Governor Bill Lee joins Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) to highlight the need for Tennesseans to focus on the importance of early literacy and efforts to strengthen it statewide. With less than one third of Tennessee third graders able to read proficiently and further declines as a result of COVID-19 school closures, GELF is rallying Tennesseans to come together to strengthen early literacy and build lifelong learners statewide.

“We have prioritized academic gains for students over the past decade, and most recently in our K-12 crisis response to COVID-19,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “We are investing in literacy resources to ensure our early learners are given every opportunity to become proficient readers by third grade, and we are fortunate to have resources like Governor’s Early Learning Foundation to help Tennesseans achieve a successful future. This month, join us to celebrate Tennessee Literacy Month to raise awareness of the importance of literacy and the efforts being made across the state to strengthen it.”

Less than one third of Tennessee third graders read proficiently. Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) 2021 scores show that disruptions to education due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic led to student learning loss. These scores show that third grade reading proficiency dropped by five percentage points from 2019.

The rate of second graders scoring “Below” in English Language Arts increased 68%, and the rate of third graders increased 47%. Students scoring at “Below” in 2nd and 3rd grades are typically those who are not able to read proficiently. Third grade reading proficiency is the benchmark where children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” and is a key indicator for a child’s future educational success and workforce readiness.

“Even though these declines were mitigated by the hard work of our educators and families, these statistics are telling, and we must meet our students where they are with the resources and support they need,” said James Pond, president of Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation. “It’s more important than ever to strengthen early literacy and build a brighter future for children, and we can help do that by encouraging children to read and giving them access to quality resources outside of the classroom. Tennessee Literacy Month is the perfect time to come together as Tennesseans to support our youngest learners.”

Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) is a public-private partnership that equips Tennessee’s children with books and innovative literacy tools that encourage lifelong learning for a brighter future. Since 2020, GELF has delivered books to 409,000 children through their Birth-5 and K-3 Book Delivery programs, sent at-home learning tips via text message to 140,000 caregivers and partnered to bring 18 Book Buses and 35 Storybook Trails to communities.

GELF encourages Tennesseans to join their efforts to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee by reading with children and utilizing their statewide programs and resources. GELF offers these tips for parents and caregivers:

  • Visit a Storybook Trail. The Storybook Trails bring classic stories to life in outdoor settings that showcase Tennessee’s natural beauty, from Cheekwood in Nashville to Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns.
  • When reading to children from 0-24 months, point out interesting pictures, ask questions (Where’s the doggie?”), use different voices, imitate sounds, and let them turn pages.
  • For children 2-3 years old, let them lead, encourage them to point out things and act out parts of the story, and ask them more complicated questions (“What are the bears doing in this picture?”).
  • For children 4-5 years old, encourage them to repeat what you read and point out colors and shapes. Ask them to tell you about the pictures and the story, and start familiarizing them with the alphabet.
  • For parents and caregivers with children from kindergarten to third grade, encourage your children to continue reading when they are not at school. Adopt reading habits as a family. Make it a part of the daily routine.

For more information on these programs, how to get involved and how to make a donation, visit governorsfoundation.org.

About GELF

Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) equips Tennessee’s children with books and innovative literacy tools that encourage lifelong learning for a brighter future. GELF is a nonpartisan 501c3 driven by a mission to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee by acting as a thought leader, advisor, and catalyst for programs across the state. These programs include Birth-5 Book Delivery through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, K-3 Book Delivery, Caregiver Engagement, Book Buses, and Storybook Trails. GELF was founded in 2004 by former Gov. Phil Bredesen as a public-private partnership to sustain Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee. GELF has grown from solely a book-gifting program to an early literacy organization driven by a vision where all Tennessee children have access to the resources, guidance, and support they need to become lifelong learners. For more information, visit www.GovernorsFoundation.org or www.facebook.com/GovEarlyLiteracyTN, or call toll-free at (877) 99-BOOKS.