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Tennessee Fourth Graders’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading Scores Improved over 10-Year Period


State of TennesseeNashville, TN – Fourth grade reading scores of Tennessee students improved more over the past 10 years than those of students in most other states, a new data snapshot on education finds.

The report, KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot: Early Reading Proficiency in the United States, compares 2003 and 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth grade reading scores.

It was issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Program.

The percent of Tennessee students who tested below fourth grade reading proficiency on the NAEP assessment decreased by 11 percent between 2003 and 2013, a larger decrease than in all but six states and the District of Columbia.

This report is based on NAEP data released in November. Earlier analysis of NAEP data found Tennessee students had improved from 2012 to 2013 on fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores to a greater degree than any other state.

This improvement marked the largest single-year increase since information became available for all states in 2003.

“Tennessee students are more likely to succeed when they come to school ready to learn. That process begins before birth and continues through early childhood,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the Tennessee KIDS COUNT affiliate. “The state has implemented a range of successful strategies that contribute to school readiness, but more is needed.”

During the critical early months and years, when children’s brains are weaving the connections needed for future learning, home visiting programs like Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Start, and Child Health and Development (CHAD), and quality early childhood education, Head Start and Pre-K encourage cognitive, social and emotional development to support school achievement.

Family Resource Centers connect struggling children and families with needed assistance to promote success.

Since 2004, Tennessee’s Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, a public-private partnership, has placed age-appropriate books in the hands of children from birth to age 5. More than a half a million young children currently participate or have graduated from the program.

The KIDS COUNT data snapshot identified opportunities for improvement. Nationally, the gap between the scores of high income and low income students grew over 10 years, with Tennessee having the highest gap among the 50 states in 2013.

Strategies are needed that target barriers to success for low income children, including sustaining and expanding existing home visiting and early childhood programs and programs that help children and their families thrive.

“A hungry child, a sick child, a child worried about a parent’s unemployment or health or where the family will be sleeping has a hard time focusing on learning,” O’Neal said.

Tennessee was recently named “State of the Year” in economic development by Business Facilities magazine because of its success in recruiting large employers to Tennessee. Continued economic development to provide good jobs for Tennesseans requires employees with the skills businesses need.

Success in keeping children in school and improving in their cognitive, social and emotional development is critical to the state’s future. By 2020, when students who were fourth graders in 2013 near graduation, the snapshot reports the nation will face a surplus of workers without high school diplomas and a shortage of those with college degrees.

The Foundation has documented in Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters ( Early Warning Confirmed ( the need to focus on reading proficiency by the end of third grade as an essential step toward increasing the number of children who succeed academically and do well in life.

Research from the reports found that children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to fall into poverty and are more likely to find a job that can adequately support their families.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is a small state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families.

TCCY is a state KIDS COUNT affiliate, and partial funding is provided through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children.

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States is available online at Statewide and county-by-county data on Tennessee child well-being indicators is available at Statewide and county-by-county data on Tennessee child well-being indicators is available at

For more information, contact 615.741.2633 or a TCCY regional coordinator.

TCCY is on the web at, Facebook at www.facebook/TCCYonfb and on Twitter as

Follow the Annie E. Casey Foundation and this issue on Twitter @aecfkidscount and @aecfnews and on Facebook at




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