Third-grade public school students across Tennessee probably didn’t realize when they went back into their classrooms on the first day of school, they were actually walking into what could be called an academic pressure cooker. The Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which passed back in January 2021, says third-grade students who score below “proficient” on the TNReady reading test could be held back if they don’t attend summer school or commit to a year of intensive tutoring.
Third grade has long been viewed as perhaps the most important year of a student’s education. It’s the pivot point where a student’s reading comprehension impacts their ability to learn other subjects. Advocates of the Act said too many of the state’s third graders aren’t proficient in reading at this critical juncture and that drastic action was needed.
The new state law includes carve-outs that allow children to be promoted even if they don’t do well on the standardized test. Students can be assigned to a summer reading camp or immersive tutoring programs to still qualify for promotion to fourth grade. Some students are exempt from the new retention policy, including English language learners who have only been in the country for one to two years, any student that has been held back before, and/or students with disabilities.
“As Director of Schools, I feel that the decision to promote/retain students in our school system should be the decision of the classroom teachers and school administration and not the General Assembly,” said Wayne County Director of Schools Marlon Davis. “I believe this to be a legislative overreach into the local school systems and feel that this decision should be returned to local control. If you feel strongly about this issue, you should reach out to our representatives in the General Assembly regarding this legislation.”
Davis explained that the Third Grade Retention Law impacts all students in grades PreK-3, with third grade being the most impacted. Students begin preparing for the third grade TCAP test in PreK/Kindergarten. The importance of attending school daily and taking all local and state mandated assessments seriously when administered is more important now than ever before. Because of the new law, promotion and retention now weigh heavily on student performance on standardized tests.
Mr. Davis went on to say that TNReady test scores, while important, are only one factor in determining students’ proficiency and readiness for grade promotion. He reiterated that students are expected to reach certain benchmarks throughout the school year, and when there is any reason for concern, the student is offered extra help or tutoring to bring them up to where they should be.
“Wayne County Schools is committed to your child’s academic success,” said Davis. “We are glad to have the opportunity to provide your child with the necessary instruction and support he or she may need.”