The Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Board of Education has joined the ranks of school districts that have passed referendums opposing Tennessee’s 3rd-grade retention law. The law, which goes into effect this year, mandates that all 3rd-graders who fail to achieve a score of “meets expectations” on the state’s annual TCAP test repeat third grade unless they avail themselves of one of the state’s options.
Those options include achieving a required score after retaking the test, enrolling in Summer School, or enrolling in a tutoring program for the next year. Parents, if they choose to, have the opportunity to file an appeal.
The MNPS resolution, which passed unanimously, argues against the law because it robs districts of local control. It points out that national studies have shown the potential for harmful social and emotional effects on children who are retained. Board members further contend that the bill casts too wide a net, and will sweep up children who don’t need remediation.
MNPS school board member, and Chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee, Abigail Tylor tells The Tennessee Star in an email, “Believers in the law claim they want to help struggling readers, but I don’t think they understand how the scoring for TNReady works. TN set the bar to achieve proficiency so high that a student has to read above grade level to meet it. This law will make us retain typically developing 3rd graders.”
She goes on to say, “This law will make us retain typically developing 3rd graders. We will have to split our focused interventions between students who desperately need support and those who are right where they’re supposed to be. There’s no funding from the state to help hire more tutors, or summer school teachers, even if we could find enough to do the job.”
In Tylor’s eyes, ‘This law will actually hurt struggling readers because it will stretch resources away from them.”
The Star reached out via email to Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R – Oak Ridge) for a response on the MNPS resolution. He replied through communication director Adam Klineheider, “While Lt. Governor McNally is sensitive to the concerns about the law, the bar set by the General Assembly is not a high one. It is thoroughly reasonable that third-grade students have a rudimentary level of proficiency in reading before advancing. Some degree of social promotion based on progress may be acceptable, but there has to be a limit.”
Klineheider reaffirmed the Lt Governor’s support of the bill by writing, “Lt. Governor McNally believes the third-grade reading level requirement to be a reasonable and achievable expectation for students to meet at an early age so they do not continue to fall behind as they move on to middle and high school.”
While remaining open to tweaking the law, legislators have bristled at suggestions that 65 percent of third-grade students will be retained. State Senator Joey Hensley told The Star over the phone that while he appreciates the school board’s concerns, those opposed to the law are focusing on the retention portion and ignoring the provisions that have been put in place to mitigate student retention. He sees the bill as a way to ensure that struggling readers get the help they need.
Senate Education Committee Chair John Lundberg tells The Star that he has received numerous emails about third-grade retention, and has been digging deeper into those concerns. While admitting that some of them are valid, he can’t help but wish people were as adamant about kids’ ability to read, as they were about local control and other concerns.
Now that session has started, lawmakers are lining up to file bills that will amend or repeal the retention law. Representative David Hawk (R-Greenville) has filed a bill (HB0093) that would make a student’s local education agency (LEA) – commonly known as public school districts – the responsible entity for decisions on retention. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) has introduced a bill (HB0107) that offers even more modification to the law.
Under Travis’s amendment, an LEA or public charter school would be required to adopt and implement a retention policy for third-grade students who are not proficient in English language arts (ELA), rather than requiring the LEA to retain those students who do not achieve a certain performance level rating on the ELA portion of the student’s most recent TCAP. It would further establish parental notice requirements for LEAs and public charter schools that recommend a third-grade student for retention. It would remove the authority of the state board of education to establish an appeal process for certain students identified for retention.
More bills suggesting amendments to the retention law, or proposing it is repealed, are expected to be filed. Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) has indicated to The Star that she is preparing repeal legislation and is currently working on the final language of her bill. The deadline to file is January 31.
School boards in Knox County, Robertson County, Sullivan County, Wilson, and Weakley County, have passed resolutions in opposition to state-mandated third-grade retention.
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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.