NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On Wednesday, Tennessee lawmakers heard from current and former educators about the potential impacts of the recently passed third-grade retention law if it is not revised.
For months, teachers and parents have been pushing state lawmakers to revoke or change the state law that would hold third graders back a year if they didn’t get a certain score on the state’s reading test.
When the original bill passed the legislature, it had bipartisan support. Only three lawmakers voted no on the final draft — Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), and Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville).
One of the main criticisms of the law is that it will impact a significant amount of students and could put a strain on schools trying to accommodate more students in third grade.
If this law was in place last year, based on the results from the 2020-2021 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores, nearly 70% of third graders would’ve been held back.
“If we don’t get reading right nothing else matters,” said James Pond with the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation. “We know if a child is not reading by third grade they are going to struggle with the 8th-grade math and reading. They are less likely to graduate high school they are less likely to go to college.”
Educators from across Tennessee applauded lawmakers’ focus on the importance of literacy but asked them to consider some changes to the law.
“I respectfully ask that you allow districts to use multiple data points when making the monumental decision to retain a student, which can have serious negative long-term consequences,” said Director of Schools for Collierville Schools Dr. Gary Lilly.
Others, like former third-grade teacher Dr. Amy Doren, said there should also be an added focus on literacy before students even enter the third grade.
“Several of them were not ready to be third graders,” she remembered from her days teaching. “And, they certainly were not ready to learn third-grade content.”
In addition to suggesting reworking the reading and proficiency test and its scoring, educators also advocated for adding more exemptions to the law.
As it is currently written, students who were held back before, have been English language learners for less than two years, or retest will not be held back. For some students, there is also an opportunity to attend a summer learning camp or get extra tutoring to continue onto the fourth grade.
“Some of our parents will do everything we ask them to do. Summer learning camps, all core tutoring and they will still not show substantial growth. Are we really going to fail those students?” asked Trousdale County Director of Schools Dr. Clint Satterfield.
The committee took no votes Tuesday but said they will continue to look into the law.