KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — For the first time this year, Kingsport City Schools is expanding regular third-grade parent meetings to fourth grade. Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Rhonda Stringham told News Channel 11 that’s because of a new state law that went into effect last school year.

The controversial legislation has become known as the “third-grade retention law”, but Stringham said that’s a bit of a misnomer.

“The actual law states that they have to make adequate progress between third grade TCAP and fourth grade TCAP to go on to fifth grade,” said Stringham.

This year’s state test scores will determine whether or not students who scored in the approaching expectations or below expectations categories will have to repeat fourth grade, so school officials like Stringham are paying extra attention to quarterly exams, or benchmarks, which gauge students’ knowledge on state standards.

“Our teachers are being very intentional with the stand surge and how they map to the test,” said Stringham.

Stringham said teachers are asking them three critical questions about each standard:

“How do we know if they know it? That’s the benchmark. What do we do if they don’t? So how do we address that in the classroom, in intervention and in tutoring,” said Stringham. “What do we do if they already know it? How do we push those kids to get more out of school than what they could be getting?”

The work to get students up to standards extends beyond the school day, said Stringham, with before and after school tutoring. Across the district’s elementary and middle schools, 400 students are enrolled in tutoring.

Those participation numbers are highest among students in third and fourth grades, the two grades impacted by the retention law, said Stringham.

Current fourth graders who scored below the “meets expectations” threshold on the TCAP last year were required to attend summer school, participate in tutoring during the school year or both. Stringham said both tutors and parents are interested in the programs.

“We’ve had a lot of people take us up on it because they really want their children to do well,” said Stringham.

The district is also using the lessons it’s taken from the “third-grade retention” experience to increase customization and individualized attention for kids across subjects.

“We’re doing the same kind of strategizing with kids in math that we’re doing in [English Language Arts], and that makes me very excited,” said Stringham.

Students will take two more benchmark exams in January and March before TCAP testing in April.