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Many Tennessee 3rd graders with poor reading skills can expect to be held back next year

A new state law is requiring school boards across the state to change their retention policy, including Hardin County, which could result in as many as half or more 3rd grade students repeating 3rd grade next year.
The new law appears to have school districts across the state spooked when thinking of the possible ramifications, including Hardin County. The Hardin County school board made the change in its policy at September’s monthly meeting.
The new state law, among other provisions and exceptions, says, “A student in the third grade shall not be promoted to the next grade level unless the student is determined to be proficient in English-Language Arts (ELA) based on the student’s achieving a performance level rating of ‘on-track’ or ‘mastered’ on the student’s most recent (TCAP) test.”
The law comes after widely reported educational setbacks among primary school students nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, however, “Results from the 2021-22 TCAP assessments show that elementary students significantly improved their ELA scores and are performing at a level similar to pre-pandemic years.”
A review of the just-released actual ELA test scores shows that may be technically true, but not by much – and not in 3rd grade, where students’ scores can now hold them back a year.
The 2019 end-of-year TNReady ELA test scores for all 3rd graders in the state show that 63% were either “below” or “approaching” – meaning if the law had been in place in 2019, roughly 63% of all 3rd grade students wouldn’t meet the new requirements to advance, exceptions aside.
The 2022 results for all Tennessee 3rd graders in ELA show 64.3% wouldn’t have met the requirement for advancement.
Locally, at the end of the 2021-2022 school year in May, 66.4% of all Hardin County 3rd graders scored “below” or “approaching” on the TNReady ELA test – a couple of percentage points above the state average.
Roughly 150 or so Hardin County 3rd graders from last year, of 230, might not be in 4th grade now, had the law been in effect last year.
About 80 of last year’s 3rd graders would have been promoted to 4th grade instead of the expected 230 – and Hardin County would be at about average standing, statewide.
There are exceptions to the requirements under the new law, as well as options for those 3rd graders who don’t meet the new ELA proficiency requirement to still advance.
School districts will still be required to comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, so students with disabilities under those acts will not be retained for failure to meet the new requirement.
Students can also be promoted, for instance, if they’re English language learners, such as foreign students, who have had less than two years of ELA instruction.
Any student who has already been held back a year in K-2nd grade can also move on.
Students who don’t meet the new requirement can opt to re-test before the next school year, and advance if they score proficient. In addition, they can attend summer school, meet a 90% attendance requirement, and show “adequate growth” at the end of the program.
Students can also be promoted without meeting the ELA proficiency requirement if they agree to be provided a tutor to tutor them throughout the entire next school year, according to the text of the law.
Those tutors, however, have to be provided through the “Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps,” and it’s as-yet unclear whether there will enough of those tutors to meet demand in all districts and for all students.
Alternatively, 3rd grade students and their parents can buckle down this year and work really hard on ensuring the student is proficient in the 3rd grade ELA standards for this year.
“This is potentially a really big deal – an awful lot of 3rd grade students – not just in Hardin County but across the whole state – are below proficiency in ELA,” Hardin County Director of Schools Michael Davis told the board.
He added, “Those students are going to have to work hard, their parents are going to have to work hard and help them, monitor their progress at home, and this school system is going to have to work very hard to help those students and parents, to get them to where they need to be.”
Davis said he expects the new law will result in summer school or tutoring, possibly both, for a lot of Hardin County 3rd graders after this year.
He said HCS administrators are holding a town-hall style meeting to answer parents’ questions and provide information.
It takes place at the Northside Elementary School gym, at 1450 East Main St., on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m.
Davis told the board a letter is being sent to all parents or guardians of 3rd graders notifying them of the new law and its requirements.

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