A month after the Tennessee Department of Education shared plans for a massive initiative targeting the state’s lackluster reading scores, officials are seeking educators to advise them on how to increase the number of students reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

Educators will be selected for the Early Literacy Council through an application process, and paid to attend meetings throughout the upcoming winter and spring, where state officials will get their feedback on literacy policy for students grades K-3.

State officials will tap the educators to help them decide how to assess the literacy skills of the state’s youngest students and to figure out what to include in summer training about early literacy next year. The educators will even help the state figure out just what it means when it refers to “third-grade readiness,” the term the state uses as the goal for its early literacy push.

The early literacy panel is the latest effort to include teacher voice in state education policymaking, after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s predecessor, Kevin Huffman, often was criticized for not engaging with principals and teachers. Since McQueen took over the department in January, she has assembled a testing task force and convened the first-ever meeting of the Governor’s Teachers Cabinet.

The spirit of community input extends beyond the Department of Education: Every Tennessean was invited to review the state’s academic standards earlier this year. A panel of teachers is finalizing proposed revisions to the standards based on the public feedback this month, and sending them to another panel of educators appointed by legislative leaders. 

The Early Literacy Council is the first piece to the literacy initiatives McQueen announced in August, called “Ready to Read” in “Ready to Be Ready” after TNReady, the state’s new test. She has not yet released a detailed timeline of how that challenge will be tackled, though McQueen promised bolstered teacher preparation and training around literacy, and a greater emphasis on helping students read before they enter kindergarten.

Just 48.4 percent of students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in reading on this year’s TCAP,  down from a peak of 50.5 percent in 2013 and 49.5 percent last year, a state of affairs McQueen said was “a moral and ethical dilemma.”

The application is on the department of education’s blog, and is due Sept. 16.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the application is due Sept. 16, not Sept. 18.