JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Schools are entering summer break around the Tri-Cities, but the work for school administrators is only beginning.

That’s because hundreds of third grade students in districts across Northeast Tennessee face retention and may not advance to the fourth grade.

It’s the first year school districts are dealing with Tennessee’s new third grade retention law, which restricts third-graders from moving up to fourth grade if they score below proficient on the state-wide TCAP English-Language Arts test.

Under the law, there are options, however, for those students who scored “approaching” or “below” expectations to still advance to fourth grade.

Students can attend summer school, where they must achieve 90 percent attendance and show “adequate growth.”

Parents can also arrange for their student to receive free tutoring during the fourth grade. Students who scored “below” expectations must do summer school and tutoring.

There’s a third option, an appeal to the state Department of Education, that opens May 30 for two weeks.

Johnson City Schools (JCS) saw about a third of its third grade students fail to make proficient scores.

District Director of Accountability and School Improvement for JCS Robbie Anderson said there has been a major effort to contact parents of children at-risk of retention through online information and direct communication.

“Our principals have been very diligent about communicating with parents, every step of the way, every time a pathway opens up,” Anderson said.

That direct communication is important because any school district could face major issues in the future if parents do not know about the available pathways to still make the third grade.

“You could get in a situation where you’ve basically added another grade level to a district,” Anderson said. “Funding for an additional class of students to graduate, plus the space to accommodate all of those students that are staying an extra year at an elementary could, at some point, become a problem.”

Anderson said she does not anticipate that being a problem in Johnson City Schools because of the steps the district has already taken.

Washington County, Tennessee Director of Schools Jerry Boyd reported 179 students will need to take one or more of those pathways to fourth grade after TCAP results came back.

As summer break gets underway, Boyd said the focus turns to getting those students onto fourth grade.

“They have opportunity and we’re going to support that,” Boyd said. “We certainly are optimistic that we’re going to see most if not all of the students meet the criteria to be promoted to fourth grade.”

Boyd said the district has 60 teachers ready to go for its summer school session.

Additionally, he said the district has made investments in tutoring in anticipating of the first year of the third grade retention law.

“That’s included in our budget conversations,” Boyd said. “We also had the final year of ESSER 3.0 dollars, and we prioritized funds there as well. It does take people and it takes qualified people that are trained and supported. So, we’re moving in a direction to ensure that we have those people as tutors in our schools.”

Boyd said the district is also looking at its ELA instruction in lower grade levels to get students prepared for the third grade TCAP.

“We focused a lot of support and training for teachers of those early literacy skills, grades K, 1, 2 and 3,” Boyd said. “It’s focused on systematic phonics, sounds first. It’s a big shift.”

As parents try to navigate which option might be best for their student, Anderson said Johnson City Schools is there to help if parents choose to appeal the retention.

“We cannot appeal for them, however, we can support them in that process,” Anderson said. “We can provide them with the student information they’re going to need.”

Getting third-graders caught up through summer school or tutoring will be critical because there is no appeal process on the 4th grade TCAP.

“They do have to show gains on the 4th Grade TCAP, and if they do not show those gains, and we do not know what those gains are going to be yet, then they risk retention,” Anderson said.’

Both Anderson and Boyd said their districts are telling parents that plan to appeal to still enroll their third graders in summer School in case that appeal does not go through.