Proposed Tenn. bill would allow teachers to mandate summer school for underperforming K-3 students

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A proposed bill in Tennessee would mandate summer school, at the teacher’s request, for students in kindergarten through third grade.

House Bill 1692 was introduced last week during the 2020 Tennessee general assembly with a focus on improving the success of students across the state, according to the bill’s author.

The bill states, “Beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, a student in any grade kindergarten through three (K-3) who does not show a basic understanding of the curriculum and an ability to perform the skills required in the subject of reading or the skills required to succeed in the next grade level, as demonstrated by the student’s grades or standardized test results, must attend summer school if the student’s teacher determines, under subdivision (c)(1), that grade retention may benefit the student.”

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) told News Channel 11 in a phone interview that a bill like this is crucial to introduce, especially when it comes to hardening basic skills in early education.

“The basis behind this is to try and solve the problems that we have at the back end of the system by diverting our attention to the front end of those first three critical years to make sure that our kids are getting the basics mastered and they’re ready to go learn as they move forward,” said Cepicky.

However, we found not everyone agrees with the bill. North Side Elementary Principal, Dr. Sharon Pickering, said she finds the bill to be redundant because summer school programs focused on this particular age group already exists in Johnson City Schools.

“I feel like Johnson City addresses our students in so many different ways that I don’t think that this is a necessary bill, but that’s my opinion,” said Pickering.

Pickering said that their summer school program has been in place for years. Summer classes meet during the month of June Monday through Friday from 8-12 p.m. with additional resources available until 4 p.m.

Pickering also indicated that their summer school program is not the only measure they’ve created to ensure the success of students. She said that on top of summer school, they also have additional tutoring throughout the day as well as after school during the school year.

Even though some schools are already using summer school programs for this focused age group, other schools across the state are in desperate need of a program like this, according to Rep. Cepicky.

“The statistics show us statewide, all districts included that we’re not performing at the level that we need to have these kids perform at, so we can institute something statewide that makes it uniform so that every kid has the opportunity to get the help that they need,” said Cepicky.

Cepicky said in a statement to News Channel 11 that kindergarten through third grade is the most crucial time for a student. While Pickering agrees that this is the best time to make sure a student has a good understanding of the basic skills needed to further their education, she does see issues with some of the bill’s language.

One section of the proposed bill indicates that should a child refuse summer school after being recommended, it reserves the possibility of retention, or holding a child back from the next grade level. Pickering sees retention as a last resort.

“Retention is not always the answer. Sometimes, it’s providing the extra support during the school day and after the school day and trying to get parents to buy in to keep their children with their social peers,” said Pickering.

Rep. Cepicky states that even though it says a child can be held back from advancing to the next grade level, the bill only allows that a child be held back once in order to keep them relatively with their social groups. However, he does believe that retention can be a solution on a case by case basis.

“We have kids that are being promoted that aren’t ready to go that could benefit from summer school and possibly even retention to make sure that they have the basics down and mastered before we move them into 4 through 12 where education really starts to accelerate,” said Cepicky.

Pickering said that the conversation of retention can be a difficult decision and discussion to have with a parent, and while she doesn’t particularly agree with that portion of the bill, she does believe the implementation of summer school for struggling kindergarten through third-graders who do not currently have a program could be an asset in other school systems.

She said she’s seen great improvements following summer school and knows the changes it can make in a child’s life.

Representative Cepicky told News Channel 11 that “not everything is perfect” and he does expect this bill to be altered and amended as it makes its way through committees.

News Channel 11 also reached out to local representatives Timothy Hill, Matt Hill, and Micah Van Huss who are listed as co-prime sponsors on this bill but have not yet heard back.

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