SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) — Education is the focus of a forum in Rutherford County Thursday, including Tennessee’s new TISA funding plan and newly enacted policies for retaining third grade students.

The Rutherford County legislative delegation invited Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn to participate in the community forum at the Smyrna Event Center from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to discuss a range of education-related topics with those in attendance.

State Representative Dr. Bryan Terry from Murfreesboro had been in contact with the department about having a forum earlier this year about the new funding formula.

“With us being one of the fastest growing counties, I felt like it was important for them to have our locals have some feedback on how the law is working. And so originally, it was going to be for more comprehensive issues dealing with TISA,” said Dr. Terry. “Then, when the school year started, there was, I think, probably some misinformation on the third grade proficiency law.”

In January 2021, Tennessee lawmakers passed a new policy that would hold back 3rd graders who don’t pass the state’s reading test. Local leaders have said retention can have long-term effects on a child and that’s the sort of decision that needed to look at on an individual basis.

“We’ve had two sessions since then and two off-seasons to have input from concerns from whether it’s a school board or, or anybody, and we really haven’t received anything from anybody until, you know, this school year started. And so that’s some of the misinformation that’s been out there, because it’s not a new law,” said Dr. Terry. “I think that some of the process and the vision that the commissioner had on this or has on this, I don’t know that it’s translated to the the parents or to the school board, or the community. I think that there’s a disconnect there that I think hopefully this can bridge that gap.”

Local leaders have said that due to the long term ramifications that studies have shown about third grade readind, retention decisions should be on a more case-by-case basis. Last school year, TCAP’s ELA scores showed 3rd graders scoring below level increased 47% and that those students are typically not able to read proficiently.

“Your third grade proficiency, I meanhas impact on, you know, your employment later or whether or not you might end up incarcerated. And so the groundwork that we do for these children today, is going to pay dividends in the end,” said Dr. Terry. “I think admitting that there’s been an issue with this, I think that was a big step, and finding solutions. And again, it’s a work in progress and it may not be perfect, but the fact that we’re serious about it means that we’re on on at least the right path.”

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He said parents, teachers, school board members, and others in the community are all invited to be a part of the forum.

“Tennessee, we had a 33% proficiency rate. And, you know, with COVID, and all that going on, the concern was that was going to drop even more with the learning loss. We’re up to 37%. Now, I think Rutherford County, Murfreesboro, that 40%. And that’s still well below where we need to be,” said Dr. Terry. “If this forum sparks an idea whether it’s from a community member, a teacher, a parent, a school board member, or one of us from the panel, [….] if it sparks an idea that can translate into a bill to better implement this, if anybody has ideas that can come through, you know, for me, I’m open to any ideas.”