NASHVILLE — State education officials say they're taking steps to address reading test scores that have remained relatively flat in early grade levels over the past five years.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program at a press conference at the state Capitol on Thursday.
The 2015 TCAP results show students made significant gains in all high school subjects and in the majority of subjects in grades 3 through 8.
However, while high school students and seventh- and eighth-graders made gains in literacy, the state average in literacy declined in grades 3 through 6.
"This year's results continue to suggest that we need to push harder than ever to ensure our students hit the mark in early grades reading," Haslam said.
Hamilton County Schools officials said county-level results won't be out for a couple of weeks.
McQueen said the state is "committed to placing an immediate and intensive focus on both early literacy and comprehension."
"Reading truly is fundamental," she said. "If we can help students read, we know we can help them succeed well past graduation."
State Education Department spokeswoman Ashley Ball told The Associated Press later Thursday that the department has been working on a strategic plan to address the literacy problem and plans to unveil it in the coming months.
She didn't provide details of the plan, but said it seeks to provide a "literacy foundation" in kindergarten through grade 2.
"Reading is still challenging in third grade, but if you have the fundamental skills built in or a better grasp of them, you're going to have a better chance of being on grade level in third, fourth and fifth grade," Ball said.
Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, said the group wants to help the state make "faster improvement in reading and literacy."
"SCORE is eager to collaborate with education partners to identify the right levers for ensuring more Tennessee students learn the reading and writing skills essential to success after high school," Woodson said.
The TCAP results show students did make strong gains in math and other areas.
For instance, in Algebra II, more than 54 percent of students this year performed at or above grade level, nearly doubling the number of students meeting or exceeding the mark in this subject.
The results also show black, Hispanic, Native American and economically disadvantaged students made gains in all high school subjects this year.
Hamilton County Schools officials are waiting to see the latest results, hoping gains from 2104 continue.
Last year, Hamilton County students showed improvement in seven of 11 tested areas overall, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press archives.
Only about half of elementary and middle school students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2014, and math and science scores in those grades were essentially flat. Seventh-grade reading scores were up. And English II scores were up 2.7 percentage points, with 58.1 of students scoring in the proficient or advanced categories.