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'They all are going to take away something from this' | Frustrated parents speak during advocacy meeting on third-grade retention

The meeting was hosted by the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, or SOCM, group.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Thursday, an advocacy group hosted a meeting for parents and teachers who wanted to speak about a Tennessee law that could hold students back in the third grade if they don't score well enough on a state exam.

The Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, or SOCM, group hosted the meeting through teleconference. While teachers joined the call, only parents spoke. Those who spoke voiced frustration and anger surrounding the third-grade retention law and the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exam.

"Why does that determine how my son feels about himself or, like one of the first speakers said, how all these kids felt about themselves leading up to this moment? They all are going to take away something from this that I would say, would feel like a trauma because they were all worried about passing," said one parent from Rutherford County. "Whether they passed or not, they all went through that fear."

The TCAP exam includes math, English Language Arts, social studies and science. This year, students who don't at least meet expectations on the English Language Arts portion could be held back in the third grade.

Students that don't meet the proficiency threshold could retake the exam, attend summer school and take a test at the end of that program, or work with a tutor during the fourth grade. The Tennessee Department of Education said around 60% of third-grade students did not meet expectations on the exam.

"I don't understand how the lawmakers thought that this was a good decision. If you forecasted an issue, then why didn't you do something before it got to this point? There are no studies that show retaining a child, especially at a third-grade level, is beneficial," said Brady Jenkins, a parent at the meeting.

On Friday, May 19, individual student ELA scores for third graders were released to the Tennessee school districts. School districts are responsible for mailing TCAP scores to families, notifying them if their student is at-risk for retention and pathways to fourth-grade promotion, including the TCAP retake opportunity, parent appeal-free summer camp and/or tutoring in the upcoming school year. 

Families should receive their final retention notification on June 24 if they did not participate in summer camp or opt for tutoring during the fourth grade. Families that chose to either go through summer camp but did not meet expectations there, such as by not maintaining a good attendance record, will receive a final retention notification on July 14.

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