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Excellent Teachers

Excellent Early Grades Teaching

A 2015 Vanderbilt University study found that disadvantaged children who attended Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) were significantly better prepared for kindergarten than those who did not attend. However, that study, as well as research conducted by Tennessee Department of Education, found wide variation in the quality of Pre-K– 3rd grade classrooms across the state. Especially striking were the studies’ findings that K-3 classrooms failed to provide instructional quality sufficient to sustain earlier Pre-K gains.

Together with the fact that the majority of Tennessee’s 3rd graders are not proficient in reading and math, these studies point to an urgent need to transform the quality of instruction along the full Pre-K –3rd grade early learning continuum.

What does early grades transformation mean? It will involve refocusing instruction on evidenced-based, high-quality teaching practices. That means early grades instruction will: a) become developmentally-appropriate based on the age and stage of the children being taught; b) incorporate knowledge and skill building across multiple content areas including reading, math, science, social studies and the arts; and c) emphasize social and work-related, or “soft skills,” competencies. It also means it’s time to double down on support and professional development for our elementary school teachers and principals – with the goals of placing an excellent teacher in every early grade classroom and holding elementary schools accountable for early grades success.

Our priorities for improving teaching in the early grades:

To accelerate student outcomes in 3rd grade and beyond, Tennessee needs an early grades transformation anchored in best practices for high quality early grades instruction.

  • Improve and expand quality pre-k to propel disadvantaged students’ growth and achievement;
  • Expand the use of knowledge-rich, developmentally-appropriate and inquiry-based curriculum in the early grades – across content areas;
  • Strengthen early grades teacher preparation and training;
  • Prioritize recruitment and retention of highly effective teachers in the early grades;
  • Provide comprehensive professional development for early grades teachers focused on the four pillars of high-quality early grades instruction; and
  • Build elementary school principals’ knowledge of high quality early grades instruction.

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