Tennessee law could hold back over half of third graders | WORLD
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Tennessee law could hold back over half of third graders

The rule was designed to combat COVID-19 learning loss


Tennessee law could hold back over half of third graders

About 60 percent of third graders in Tennessee might have to repeat the grade this fall under a new state law. Anna Henson, a fourth grade teacher at Emerald Academy in Knoxville, Tenn., said only 6 out of 48 third graders at the charter school passed a required reading test earlier this year.

“It was just very, very hard on them,” Henson said. “They were having panic attacks, getting physically ill, crying, they were very upset and very, very, very stressed about the test just even going into it.”

As many as 44,400 Tennessee third graders could be held back since a 2021 law went into effect requiring third graders at public schools, including charters, to pass the English language arts section of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test. Parents and teachers question if the Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act does more harm than good.

The state passed the law in 2021 due to concerns about learning loss from COVID-19. The TCAP splits English language arts scores into four categories: below, approaching, met, and exceeded. The legislation requires students with scores in the “approaching” and “below “categories to retake and pass the test or attend summer school and receive tutoring before advancing to the next grade. Both options are free for students.

Parents of students in the “approaching” category can ask the Tennessee Department of Education to allow their child to move up a grade. Their appeal must include documents showing their child’s reading improvement or an event that lessens their child’s ability to do well on the test.

The law allows exceptions for students whose first language is not English and have had fewer than two years of English instruction, students who previously repeated a grade, and students with a diagnosed or suspected reading-related disability.

Some educators argue that a single test should not determine whether a child continues to the next grade.Teachers like Henson also wonder if a high-stakes test is the best route to improving reading scores.

“I think there are ways to go about filling in those gaps and trying to fix the problem that obviously is there. I don’t think that this is the best way, personally, just from my experience and some of the research that I’ve done,” Henson said.

This summer she plans to work at a tutoring program for students who didn’t pass the state’s reading test. “I think if we had enough teachers and resources to work with smaller groups [in] a more targeted way, things would change dramatically,” she said.

According to Brian Blackley, media director at the Tennessee Department of Education, 26,048 third grade students have retaken the TCAP as of May 31. This year, 40 percent of third graders scored either “met” or “exceeded” in English language arts, which is a 4.3 percent increase since last year.

“I think COVID is a big reason why students would be struggling, I do think that is a very real concern,” said Kelly Platillero, a high school Spanish teacher at Christian Academy of Knoxville in Knoxville, Tenn. Platillero previously taught third grade at Paideia Academy, a classical Christian school. “I also realize that you can’t keep passing a child who is not up to standards on their reading, because … it’s just going to snowball and affect every area.”

Isabelle Hendrich

Isabelle Hendrich is a graduate of Bryan College and a student at the World Journalism Institute.

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