BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Sullivan County Board of Education is urging state lawmakers to put power back in local hands.
The board voted 6-1 to send a resolution to the General Assembly asking lawmakers to reconsider a controversial law requiring third graders to repeat the grade if they don’t achieve proficiency in English Language Arts.
“This law, as it’s written, basically says one size fits all, and one size does not fit all,” said Board Chair Randall Jones.
Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski says though the intent of the law is noble, it fails to take into account the reality students, teachers, parents, and school systems face.
“I understand that the goal is that no third grader move on, unless they are proficient in reading,” Rafalowski told News Channel 11. “I’m not saying that’s a bad idea. I just think there’s more to it than one test on one day.”
Rafalowski says 68% of Sullivan County’s third graders would have had to repeat the grade if the law had been in effect last year, putting a big strain on the school system which would have to increase staff for to support students repeating third grade.
“We’re talking about teachers having to be moved from one grade level to another, having to have different preparation. It’s significant,” Rafalowski said.
Not everyone agreed. Board Member Mark Ireson said the state is just trying to ensure students have strong reading skills, setting students up for success in later grades.
“I don’t think it’s as easy as just saying it’s draconian what they did. I think what they’re trying to do is help,” Ireson said.
Rafalowski said this year’s crop of third graders has been unfairly impacted by COVID. Their first full uninterrupted year of in-person learning was last year, when they were in second grade.
“We’re talking about 8 and 9-year-olds who are starting to experience friendships, some emotional social situations, and this is a very difficult situation for them to experience,” Rafalowski said.
Board members also expressed concerns about pinning students’ outcomes to a single test and lack of clarity as to what standards students should meet to be promoted to fourth grade.
TCAP testing, which will determine whether students are promoted, is set to run from April 18 to May 6.