JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee state lawmakers return to Nashville on Tuesday to begin the 113th General Assembly. They’re expected to address controversial topics like abortion, the Department of Children’s Services, gender-affirming health care for minors, marijuana, and education.
One topic in education that’s raised plenty of debate is what’s known to many as the third-grade retention law.
The law requires 3rd graders to score proficiently on the TCAP English Language Arts (ELA) section. If they don’t, they’ll have to repeat the grade, take summer classes, and take tutoring during the next school year.
“I support the intent of the law but actually putting it into practice at the district level is where I have a lot of questions and concerns,” said Washington County Schools superintendent Jerry Boyd. “The main concern was the complete removal of local influence and control over that decision of retention.”
Last week, Kingsport city school leaders said they were against the law.
Boyd says that he and members of his school board have had several meetings with local state legislators about this law and that retention is not the answer.
“The data has shown it is not a solution to correcting learning gaps in any particular grade. It’s just not. No data has shown that” Boyd said. “Retention has a negative impact on student success in K-12, high school graduation rate. To retain this many students based on how the law is written certainly brings that argument to light and causes big questions and concerns for us.”
State education records show if the third-grade retention law were in effect last year, it would have held back roughly 68% of third graders.
Of the 516 Washington County third graders who took the Spring ELA TCAP in 2022, 205 met or exceeded the ELA grade level expectations and 311 did not. Of those 311 students, 103 were “Below Expectation” and 208 students were “Approaching.”
While some of those 311 students would not have to be held back, Boyd says that based on the law, the majority would.
“You don’t just throw students back into the same grade and expect them to be successful just because they repeated a year unless that year is significantly different than what they experienced before,” said Boyd. “If you don’t really improve the practice in the classroom and support your teachers with the right materials and learning opportunities to best support their students nothing is going to change. That law to retain students is not the solution.”
Along with individual student impact, teachers will have to be pulled from other grade levels to meet the demand of students retained in the third grade.
“If you pull from the second grade you’re going to increase the number of students and reduce the number of teachers so you’re going to increase the classroom sizes in second grade and possibly first grade and so on if you move teachers around. It presents huge challenges,” Boyd explained.
While this new law is technically in effect for this school year, it could be changed or amended while lawmakers are in Nashville. The general assembly convenes Tuesday at 12 p.m. central time.