'It’s frustrating and it hurts': There's a new push to reform Tennessee's Third Grade Retention Law

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Posted at 4:44 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 09:42:04-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — This spring, if your child is in the third grade, a single test could determine if they go on to fourth grade or if they will be held back.

Keep in mind, according to the state, only 37% of those students read proficiently.

"Yesterday, I was pretty much told she would be repeating," said Tamara Miles, a mother of a student in MNPS.

Miles is the first to admit: her child is struggling in school. But she also believes the reasons why are beyond her daughter's control.

"With the COVID and everything that’s been going on, she hasn’t had a chance to have a full education as a young child would," said Miles.

Now, unless Faith performs better than expected on the reading portion of her TCAP tests, she'll be required by state law to repeat the third grade.

"As a parent, it’s frustrating, and it hurts," she said.

While repeating a grade could help Faith's reading skills, Tamera is worried it'll do the opposite for Faith's self-esteem.

"Now they have to start over. 'I’ve got to make new friends, I’m already shy. Now I’m feeling like I am… more or less I’m not smart enough as my classmates,'" said Miles.

The Third Grade Retention Law just went into effect this school year, but already two Republican lawmakers have introduced new legislation that would change how it works.

Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, submitted HB 0107, which would require a school district or charter school to adopt and implement a retention policy for third grade students who are not proficient in reading, instead of having them repeat the third grade.

Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, submitted HB 0093, which would make the student's school district in charge of deciding if they should repeat a grade, instead of the automatic results from the TCAP test.

Democratic House Caucus Chair Rep. John Ray Clemmons says his members are all for changing the law.

"We shouldn’t be placing all the emphasis on a single standardized test," said Clemmons.

On the right side of the aisle, votes may be more split.

Republican Majority Leader William Lamberth sponsored the original bill that set up the Third Grade Retention Rule and stands by it.

"Third grade is the point where we’ve decided to draw a line in the sand," said Lamberth. "We can always tweak that in implementation and how that works, we want it to work well, but at the end of the day, we want to make sure teachers and parents and children have the support they need to make sure these kids can read and can get a great education."

But for Tamera, she feels like a one size fits all approach deserves a failing grade.

"I feel like my child literally has been left behind," said Miles. "For the state to take it into their hands to tell you, 'Hey this is what we’re going to do with your child.' That’s unfair."

The Metro Nashville School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask the Tennessee General Assembly to reconsider the Third Grade Retention Law.

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