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TN lawmakers allow 4 out of 19 proposed third-grade retention law amendments to pass subcommittee

The House K-12 Subcommittee tossed out more than a dozen proposals on Tuesday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Tuesday, Tennessee lawmakers ruled on 19 proposals to change a new third-grade retention law. Only four of the proposals were allowed to make it out of the House K-12 Subcommittee.

In around a month, students across Tennessee are expected to take the TCAP exam. Students can "exceed," "meet," "approach" or be "below expectations" on the exam. If they approach or are below expectations on the English and Language Arts exam in third grade, the state law would require them to repeat third grade, go to summer school or attend tutoring. 

Advocates, parents and teachers across Tennessee said that the new law gives control of student education over to the state, instead of local districts, teachers, and parents.

Some lawmakers said they did not want the decision of whether to let children pass to the fourth grade to be left to the local districts.

"What I don't want to end up seeing through any legislation that comes through is putting it back over into the school board for the recommendation, as far as for going forward," said Representative Bryan Richey (R - Maryville). "Where we're at at this particular time is because the state, our local ELAs, our teachers and our parents have failed our kids. And in my opinion, we continually just keep moving the threshold further and further down."

However, some other lawmakers said the new law goes too far.

"I just feel that that decision is best left to be a local decision. However, it seems what's gaining steam across the aisle is something completely different," said Representative Gloria Johnson (D - Knoxville).

She is also a former teacher in Knox County Schools. 

The four House bills that are proceeding to the special calendar, and final calendar are HB 1364, HB 0270, HB 0978, and HB 0437.

HB 1364, proposed by Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Jefferson), "expands who receives the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act progress report that is developed by the department to include all of the general assembly." 

The original law only required the progress to be sent to the governor, and other leaders of the legislature. This bill does not alter how the retention law affects students.

HB 0270, proposed by Rep. Bryan Terry (R- Murfreesboro), proposes a second chance for some students. Instead of pinning the future of a student on one state test, schools could also factor in other state reading reviews throughout the year. Students who do not pass the TCAP requirement could score high on the Tennessee universal reading screener and not be at risk of retention, according to this bill.

In addition, it adds the right for the local school district to file an appeal on behalf of the student to prevent them from being behind retained. 

HB 0978, also proposed by Rep. Bryan Terry (R- Murfreesboro), proposes allowing parents to directly appeal the retention decision of their student to the Tennessee Department of Education.

HB 0437, proposed by Rep. Mark White (R- Memphis), proposes adding a portion to the TDOE website that details the appeals process for parents, and local school districts.

All four amendments, which passed the subcommittee, keep power in the hands of the state.

The National Association of School Psychologists said retention laws like Tennessee's can have harmful effects on students with disabilities, and on at-risk students. They also said retention has "little to no evidence" of improving a student's academics.

"We don't need to put all of these procedural things in place for parents to jump through the hoops to make sure that their kid is not retained," said Rep. Johnson.

Johnson also proposed an amendment to the retention law. It was put off notice without discussion.

"I want to run my bill," she said. "It is interesting that they're stopping a teacher who's actually taught reading, not only taught reading to young kids but also taught reading in high school as well, for students who are not good readers."

All four bills that passed the House subcommittee have counterparts in the Senate. All four bills have several more steps before becoming law.

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