What We do Moving Forward is Shaped by How Much We Have Learned
Is your life the same today as it was a year ago? Mine isn’t. I am still coming to grips with personal loss and the collective loss experienced by us all. As the world shifted and things came to a halt, it was hard for many people to comprehend why all of this was happening because we could not see the cause. It was invisible to the naked eye. What we could see and continue to see are the outcomes—represented as numbers. At first, these numbers grew at a rate that seemed inconsequential— lulling some of us into a false sense of security, but then, those numbers grew at a rate that seemed incomprehensible.
As a result of the global pandemic, almost all of us have been personally touched by loss and can serve as witnesses to this moment in history. A meme that struck me as particularly poignant read: “I am tired of living through historic events.” The meme is an expression of how we can use humor to cope with loss. The past year has taken away so much from all of us—people we love, a way to provide for ourselves and our families, and the experiences we took for granted before the pandemic. The loss differs from person to person, but everyone lost something.
Something that children lost was the time that they should have spent engaging in learning at school. Their losses have placed a spotlight on education and learning outcomes. In a recent special legislative session, the governor, legislature, and the commissioner of education took time out to share a very real number with Tennesseans. And unfortunately, this number is consistent with national numbers. In the year preceding the global pandemic, 66% of the children in Tennessee public schools were unable to read at grade level by the end of third grade. Let that number sink in for a moment. Most of the children in our schools could not read short text passages and answer questions about what the passages meant. Findings published by researchers at the University of Memphis have highlighted that a failure to pass tests like the Tennessee state reading assessment is due in part to kids’ not being able to read words. It is not just the result of kids; not being able to comprehend. And recent findings published by researchers at this center have highlighted that failures on tests like this result from a lack of quality reading instruction during the early grades, well before third grade assessments reveal the problem.
What is truly alarming is that there is nothing new about these numbers. The majority of children in Tennessee and the nation have struggled to read for several decades. Before the pandemic, numbers like these were part of the background noise that made up the busy lives that we lived. Now that the world has slowed down, we have time to reflect, and there is a growing fear that these numbers will only worsen due to the time lost in school. As a result, the Tennessee legislature passed legislation intended to ensure that Tennessee schoolchildren receive quality reading instruction in the early grades to head off reading failure.
This initiative looks toward the future and to what the state of Tennessee plans to do. In this context, I wanted to look back at what our little center has been doing and what we have worked so hard to keep doing moving forward. The scale of our resources limits the scope of our efforts. There is only so much that a center with five people can do. But our hearts are mighty, and our collective knowledge and commitment to the center’s mission are deep. In this issue of our newsletter, I asked everyone to share a bit of what we do here at the center. And we gathered some thoughts of how these efforts have made an impact. For my part, there are two things that I want to showcase as part of my opening thoughts.
First, the center is first and foremost a vehicle for translating research into practice through all that we do. And it always has been. We actively engage in conducting research on literacy and literacy outcomes for children and adults. We subject these findings to the peer review process and publish them in scientific journals. We also add to this community through our service. Members of the center staff serve as editors, on editorial boards, and as reviewers for peer-reviewed research journals. Published findings from the center have added to the evolving understanding of reading development and how to support that development in all children. We also train MTSU undergraduate and graduate students from various degree programs to be the next generation of research practitioners. We equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to enter various roles in the workforce as informed purveyors and consumers of research. We teach them how to translate the research into practice.
Second, we develop content that translates research findings into digestible resources for parents, educators, and others. These resources take the form of videos, infographics, practice guides, and instructional materials. Several state departments of education have shared these resources with their stakeholders. They have also been incorporated into statewide teacher training initiatives in several states. And teachers, parents, and administrators share these resources through social media platforms.
These are just two concrete examples, and the efforts of the center go well beyond them. I invite you to learn more about what we do here at the center in this newsletter.
Timothy Odegard, Ph.D., Chairholder, Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies
Tim Odegard, Ph.D., chairholder, Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies
Tim Odegard serves as the editor-in-chief of Annals of Dyslexia and on the editorial board of Perspectives on Language and Literacy. These official publications of the International Dyslexia Association feature peer-reviewed research, as well as practical articles for educators, respectively.
Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia