New law will allow schools to hold back 3rd graders who aren't proficient in reading

TCAP testing sign
Posted at 4:43 PM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 21:17:51-04

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new law will allow school districts to hold back 3rd graders who aren’t proficient in reading for the 2022-2023 school year.

To help more students learn to read, Governor Bill Lee has introduced a new reading program. Deanna Serfass has a 2nd grader who is struggling with reading, and she's not alone. Serfass said, "I feel like he’s just getting further and further, and it’s making it harder for him to catch up."

This year, state lawmakers passed a bill saying school districts can hold back 3rd graders who aren't reading on grade level by the time they take TNReady tests at the end of the year. The district could also require them to enroll in a summer school program, or require tutoring in 4th grade through TN ALL Corps.

Serfass said, "It’s a great option. I personally felt as a parent, we should have the option… like I wanted to hold him back and have him repeat 2nd grade, but the school will not allow me to."

Deanna said her son fell behind this year due to COVID-19 quarantines, so she's decided to pull him out of Williamson County Schools, and send him to a private school. "The school focuses more on where he’s learning at versus grade level," Serfass said.

This year, Williamson County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools will be offering optional summer school programs to help students catch up on reading before the new law goes into effect.

While some parents support the program, others like Kyle Creamer are against it. He believes it should be his family’s choice. Creamer said, "One of my children is one that has been recommended that he attend summer school this year, and I personally said no. I feel like he’s tapped out."

Kyle Creamer has two students in Williamson County Schools, a rising kindergartner, and his wife teaches 2nd grade in Cheatham County. "To me, it seems, like I said, a little unfair, not only to the children and to the parents, but to the teachers," Creamer said.

He said parents, not the government, should decide if their child should be held back. "We’re asking so much of them that they’re flooded," Creamer said.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education, there will be an appeal process when this new law is enacted.

Most students take TNReady tests in April, but due to all the learning disruptions from the pandemic, this year's scores will be used for diagnostic purposes only. This means students and teachers won't be held accountable for the results. It's unclear how many students are non-proficient in reading currently because testing did not count last year either.

After the story was published a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Education sent us a statement via email:

"The law does not impact today's second grade students as they won't fall under the implementation timeline (2022-23 school year). Additionally, Tennessee does not test students through the TCAP assessment prior to the third grade, so testing in the 2022-23 school year will occur in the spring of 2023, meaning today's first graders will have almost two years of instruction before taking the TCAP as third graders.

Due to the suspension of testing in 2019-20 and the current testing window being still open for this school year, we cannot answer the question of current proficiency, but historical data indicates that only one third of third graders and only 27 percent of eighth graders are proficient in English Language Arts.

The learning loss legislation establishes a third grade “reading gate” and provides students with additional time and academic support, such as retesting, participation in a learning loss bridge camp or a tutor through the ALL Corps for the entirety of fourth grade, before retention."