KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Education released a statewide average of English Language Arts scores that shows "historic gains in third grade reading," despite 60% of students across the state scoring below proficient.
This year, students who do not meet the proficiency threshold on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program's ELA portion face being held back, after a state law went into effect. To avoid retention, students can retake the test, enroll in summer school or advance to the fourth grade with a tutor assigned to them.
"Those who know the child best should be making these high-stakes decisions," Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said. "You have to be careful about who you retain. It has to be the right kid for the right reasons and not because of one or two test scores."
The TDOE's specific role in the new law is limited to reviewing appeals in accordance with the State Board of Education rule and providing a report to the General Assembly. They are also responsible for posting the appeals window and process.
"If they don't do well by the end of the third grade, that can even be reflected years forward," Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) said. "If we identify a child that has a reading difficulty, we have to do something to fix it."
He said he supports the bill's intent but has mixed feelings about the timing.
"We know that there were learning setbacks because of COVID," he said. "I wish we could have put this off a year or maybe even two years to give them a chance to catch up."
Johnson said the time will never be right for a retention bill like this.
"I will do everything in my power to repeal this," she said. "I will also have the power of hundreds of thousands of Tennessee parents who are furious."
School districts are responsible for mailing TCAP scores to families and notifying them if their student is at-risk for retention. Districts are required to host their own intervention programs, including summer programs and providing tutors. They are also responsible for offering opportunities to retake the exam.
TDOE said this year's increase in students who met expectations was the largest in a single year since the state updated its ELA academic standards in 2017. They said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, only a third of third graders in Tennessee met expectations on the exam's ELA portion.
A timeline showing the window families have to retake the test or appeal the scores is available on the TDOE's website. Generally, they have between May 30 and June 30 to submit an appeal, and between May 22 and June 5 to retake the exam.
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 maintaining a good attendance record, will receive a final retention notification on July 14.