NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Tennessee Senate passed a bill to make slight changes to the state’s controversial third-grade retention law, but even if the House approves it, it won’t go into effect until next school year.
The current retention law, which went into effect this year, requires third-graders who don’t score proficiently in English Language Arts (ELA) on the TCAP exam to be held back unless they take the test again and score proficiently, attend summer school, or are assigned a tutor for the following school year.
Local school officials and parents have raised concerns about the law. Johnson City school leaders expect the number of summer school students to increase by threefold, although they said in February they are prepared for it.
A bill carried by Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) would add another benchmark in hopes of reducing the number of students impacted by the law. The legislation would allow third-graders who score as “approaching” in ELA on the TCAP to be promoted to the fourth grade if they also scored in the 50th percentile on the most recently administered benchmark assessment prior to the TCAP.
The bill would also change current law so that any student who is retained in kindergarten through third grade would automatically be assigned a tutor for the upcoming school year, which was left out of the original retention law. It would also allow the state Department of Education to procure three online tutoring providers for schools to use.
The legislation would also allow school officials to assist parents with filing appeals.
However, if the bill becomes law, the changes would not go into effect until the 2023–2024 school year.
In the Senate on Tuesday, Lundberg said students, parents, teachers, and school administrators have prepared and are ready to deal with the retention law.
“They know what’s coming,” Lundberg said. “And I think we need to continue on the path that we said, all of us said was a good idea a year ago.”
However, some lawmakers were critical of keeping the current law, including Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City).
“I’ve got parents that are irate that they’re getting letters saying their students who are making As and Bs are going to have to go to summer school,” Crowe said. “Something is wrong with this whole thing and I’m almost ready to vote against this whole darn thing.”
Lundberg pointed out that TCAP testing just began this week and parents shouldn’t be receiving any letters about their child being retained since tests haven’t been scored yet.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) said the legislation “falls short” of fixing what’s wrong with the third-grade retention law.
“Push pause on this, take this back and actually think through a fix that will actually work and serve students’ needs best,” Yarbro said.
Other lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill.
“To vote no on this bill will not relieve us of the original problem, that law is still there. This bill will give some relief,” Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) said. “Now, there may be other things that we need to do but we should take them up next session, next year.”
After sarcastically “shedding a tear” for parents whose summer vacation plans might be ruined by the third-grade retention law, Sen. Todd Gardenhire said (R-Chattanooga) said parents should be more responsible.
“You know, if you want to go on a family vacation and you’re afraid your child might have to repeat, maybe you should spend time during the year reading to them,” Gardenhire said. “Maybe you ought to spend time with that child, teaching them to read.”
Lundberg said a vote against the bill was a vote for keeping things the same.
“If you want to give flexibility and support to those parents, more support to those students, more support to the educators to utilize the other tests that they are already going to be taking, this is a bill you want to support. Voting no says, ‘I like it the way it was.'”
The legislation passed the Senate 26–4 and now awaits a vote by the full House.