Local educators, parents push back against state’s new third grade retention policy

On Tuesday, educators and parents across Moore County pushed back against the state’s new third grade retention law. (File Photo)

It’s Tuesday and third grade parents and educators across Moore County aren’t happy.

A little after 8 a.m., the Moore County Schools Facebook page pushed out an informational post about a law, passed last January by Tennessee legislators, that would hold back any third grader who can not pass the state’s reading test. The Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act can be read by clicking here.

According to last year’s TCAP results, the number of Tennessee third graders reading below level increased by 47 percent. Just 35.7 percent of Tennessee third grade students statewide score at “met” or “exceeded” expectations on their English Assessment. This is the threshold a student must meet to get promoted to fourth grade.

According to the new law, children in danger of being held back can attend summer school or receive tutoring to avoid being held back. Students will be allowed to retake the reading portion of the test to attempt to score at grade level following successful completion of either summer school or reading. The only snag, according to local educators, is that TCAP results aren’t generally available until after the school year – putting the local school district in a bit of a time crunch.

“Summer school will occur during the months of June and/or July. Students that are required to attend will not be notified until TCAP results are returned from the Department of Education. These results may or may not be returned to the school district before the school year ends,” the Moore County School system said online.

Parents can file a retention appeal with the local school district and some students like English language learners, students with disabilities, and students that have been held back in a previous year are exempt from the policy.

Taking decisions out of the classroom

Most educators consider third grade as a crucial determination of a student’s future academic success. In fact, to many, third grade is the most important year of a student’s education because it’s the pivot point where reading comprehension begins to affect a student’s ability to learn in other subjects.

According to most local teachers we talked to, retention is a huge, life-altering decision for any child that can carry long term effects. Many express frustration that those decisions will now be made outside the classroom and not by the educators closest to the child.

It’s not just an opinion shared by local teachers. On Wednesday, local teachers across the state took to social media to express their concerns. Some school boards, like the Rutherford County Board of Education, voted to ask their attorney to draft a resolution expressing concerns about the new law.

One test, one day that could change a life

One local third grade parent, Jennifer Ervin, who also works at Moore County High Schools as an LPN in Moore County Special Education Department immediately expressed her concern online. Her daughter, Ruby, attends third grade at Lynchburg Elementary.

“As a parent of a third grader, it breaks my heart that my child has to take on the pressure of mastering one single test to keep her out of summer school and to even determine if she is able to go up to fourth grade,” Ervin said. “She’s always made straight As, tests very well in ELA, but if she has one bad test score, none of that will even be considered with this law coming from people who, apparently, have never stepped foot in a classroom.”

Additionally, education advocacy groups, like The Education Trust for Tennessee, have gone on record with concerns that disadvantaged an low-income students will be disproportionately affected because those families may lack the resources to seek extra help.

Local students often start preparing for the third grade TCAP test as early as Pre K or kindergarten, so the new law will produce a trickle down affect beyond current third grade students. Additionally, the first group of students who will face the new policy were in local kindergarten classrooms when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Over the past several years, these students have faced cancelled classes, virtual learning, masks, and social distancing guidelines resulting in disrupted educational gains, a phenomenon educators refer to as the COVID slide — something a recent Education Week article called “seismic and ongoing.”

“It really goes to show that it is not like we could put in place recovery efforts in 2022 and just think, oh, by 2023, things will be back to normal,” said Megan Kuhfeld in the article. Kuhfeld is a research scientist for the Collaborative for Student Growth at NWEA, a non-profit that focuses on student growth. “This is really going to be a multiyear effort to help catch up kids.”

Before the pandemic, 30 percent of Moore County third graders scored “on track” or “mastered” on the ELA test. Legislators chose to forego the test in 2020 due to the pandemic. In 2021, 41.7 percent scored on level, which means Moore County students actually improved post COVID. The 2022 result currently sit under media embargo.

When we asked Director Moorehead is he thought “COVID slide” would affect future scores, he stated that he felt certain that it is an issue – complicating things further.

Parents, educators encouraged to reach out to state legislatures

Educators and school administers across the state are encouraging local parents to voice their opinion of the new law.

“As Director of Schools, I feel that the decision to promote/retain students in our school system should be the decision of the classroom teachers and school administration and not the General Assembly,” Director of School Chad Moorehead said in a statement to parents on August 29. “The professional educators that work with our students each day should not be overruled by a law written by those that do not work with our children on a daily basis. I believe this to be a legislative overreach into the local school systems and feel that this decision should be returned to local control. Regardless of whether or not you agree with me, everyone should reach out to our representatives in the General Assembly regarding this legislation.”

To send an email to Representative Iris Rudder, who represent Moore and parts of Franklin and Marion counties, click here or you may reach her Nashville office at 615-741-8695. To reach out to Representative Pat Marsh, who represents Bedford, Moore, and parts of Lincoln County, click here or call 615-741-6824. To reach out to Senator Shane Reeves, who represents Moore, Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall, and parts of Rutherford County, click here or call 615-741-1066. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}