ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL)–Tri-Cities school systems are adapting to the new reality created by the third-grade retention law.

Two local districts, Elizabethton and Kingsport City Schools, spoke with parents tonight about the controversial measure.

At Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethton, principal Eric Wampler answered questions and confronted parents’ dissatisfaction with the law.

“All across the state people have the same concerns that you guys do and that you guys are sharing with me,” Wampler said to the full cafeteria.

Parent Ashton Belcher said the law feels like another blow to a class of students whose kindergarten and first-grade years were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My fear is that they’re going to be punished for not having that, you know, foundation that was affected, because of COVID. Not because of the school,” Belcher told News Channel 11.

Elizabethton City Schools said 94 of 180, more than fifty percent of 3rd graders last year, would have had to repeat the year under the new law.

Both Kingsport and Elizabethton schools provided parents with contact information for local legislators, so they can voice their complaints.

Parents said they worry that their students are being judged on one test, rather than their school performance.

“My son has, has gotten A’s and B’s and been super proud of him for that,” Belcher said. “This test may not be a reflection of that.”

Potential amendments

In Nashville, some are already working to change the law. Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) proposed a bill that would return retention decisions to the local level.

But State Senator Jon Lundberg of Bristol – who last session chaired the Senate Education Committee – objects to Hawk’s changes, arguing the bill would return Tennessee schools to business as usual.

He said letting 3rd graders advance without becoming proficient in reading will have long-term consequences.

“The chance of graduating high school is much, much higher if you’re reading at grade level, a third and fourth grade. And frankly, going on to get a certificate go to college,” Lundberg told News Channel 11. “Even the health benefits are much different. If you have mastered reading third and fourth grade, it’s that basic that important.”

Lundberg also objects to concerns about staffing the law’s required tutoring and summer programs. He said the state has already appropriated about 100 million dollars to implement new programs.

Testing outcomes

Though many critics have argued the Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act places too much weight on the result of the TCAP test, the reality is more complicated than basing promotion decisions on the results of a single test on a single day.

Students taking TCAP assessments are scored in one of four categories–“Exceeds Expectations,” “Met Expectations,” “Approaching Expectations” or “Below Expectations.” Those scoring in “Approaching” or “Below Expectations” categories may retake the TCAP, attend 90% of lessons in a summer reading camp or attend tutoring before facing retention.

Students will not be retained if they display “adequate growth,” a state standard that remains vaguely defined.