Back to the basics to boost reading results: Q&A with TSU's Dr. Jerri Haynes

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Among the thousands of programs evaluated on NCTQ's Early Reading standard, Tennessee State University deserves special recognition for two reasons: Not only is TSU's undergraduate elementary education program one of the almost 300 exemplary programs that received an A in the latest evaluation of NCTQ's Early Reading standard, but TSU's program raised its grade from a F to an A in the three years since evaluations were last conducted.

TSU made the change by taking two key steps: The first was to update coursework and field experiences so that reading instruction is grounded in the fundamentals of reading. Second, the program began collecting data that will measure whether graduates have the skills they need to teach reading, or whether further adjustments are needed.

Dr. Jerri Haynes, Dean of the College of Education at Tennessee State UniversityTo learn more about the factors that lead to TSU's success, NCTQ interviewed Dr. Jerri Haynes, Dean of the College of Education at Tennessee State University (shown right). The resulting Q&A, below, has been edited and condensed.

NCTQ: What has Tennessee State University's College of Education done to help its graduates be more prepared to teach elementary students to read?

Dr. Haynes: We sharpened our focus. We changed from thinking about literacy broadly, to having a specific focus on the five components of reading, which have been shown by research to lead to students learning to read.

NCTQ: What advice would you give to someone trying to make a similar change?

Dr. Haynes: First we needed to ask the question "Where do they learn it?" about each of the components of reading, and be sure that our program includes all of the components. But just including them is not enough. What we really needed to do was to change the culture from "I taught it" to a culture of looking for evidence that what I am doing is working. There's a difference between teaching and being an effective teacher. We are a top producer of teachers among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and we need to make sure that we equip these teachers with the tools to be effective.

NCTQ: Did you have any difficulties along the way?

Dr. Haynes: One issue that we encountered was lack of data. The data that we currently have available on the performance of our graduates is not specific enough. We are gathering our own data, and I also wish we had data on how our elementary teacher candidates do on the reading portion of their licensure exams.

NCTQ: What results have you seen from the changes you have made?

Dr. Haynes: It's early, but anecdotally I hear that our graduates get better scores on Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model evaluations and are more prepared to teach. I'm looking forward to seeing the results as we collect more data. I want every teacher candidate that leaves our program to know what good reading instruction looks like, and what they can do to improve.

If you want to learn more about TSU's approach, contact Dr. Jerri Haynes, Dean of the College of Education at Tennessee State University at