Tenn. education leaders respond to third-grade retention concerns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – The Tennessee Education Commissioner, Penny Schwinn, spoke during an education forum inside of the Smyrna Event Center Thursday afternoon.

The Rutherford County legislative delegation held the forum to dive deeper into the recent Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which was passed in January 2021. Third graders in the state are now required to pass the English and Language Arts portion of the TCAP test .

“We received over a hundred and thirty questions, and so we spent some time drilling down and categorizing those questions,” said Barbara Long, a Murfreesboro City School Board Member.

The hour-long forum focused on clarifying the law and reading standards. Right now, Tennessee third graders are at a 33% proficiency level, and with the learning loss during the pandemic, state leaders are using this as a way to catch students up.

Schwinn says they’re not expecting a large number of students to be held back, and for those who are on the verge of retention, there are steps in place before retention is determined.

“The vast majority of students who are at or below, or approaching category are likely going to receive other interventions and not be retained based on what we’re hearing from superintendents across the state. It is what we can do to provide additional support to students, so they’re able to accelerate their learning, ”said Schwinn, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner.

Schwinn reassured parents and educators that the law has an exemption in place for students who have a disability or suspected disability.

If a third grader doesn’t pass TCAP on the first try, they can retake the test, and if they don’t pass again, they will have to do summer school and retest for proficiency. Nonnative English speakers, students with certain reading disabilities, and students who have already been held back are exemptions.

“The district goes through those processes specifically with families and teachers, and interventionists, etc. determines what that child IEP is so they qualify for one or that child might be in the process because there’s a suspected disability through the response of intervention, ”said Schwinn.

State Representative Bryan Terry moderated the education forum. He emphasized how this law is in place to help to learn loss during the pandemic.

“What they really want to do is identify the students that are at risk early on first grade and second grade get them a response to intervention, RTI, so that they can show growth in third grade when they do take that TCAP,” said Terry .

Even if students don’t pass, parents can still appeal the decision.

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