Hamilton County School Board Predicts 30% of Third-Graders At-Risk Of Retention

Image Credit: Randen Pederson / CC

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

Hamilton County School’s District officials are expecting at least 30% of third grade students to be in danger of not making it to the fourth grade.

The Hamilton County School Board announced a new policy requiring a summer tutoring program for any third grader who does not score in the “proficient” range on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test in the spring. The summer tutoring is mandatory for the student to be promoted to the fourth grade.

The summer learning plan was created to comply with the state’s new third grade retention law which requires school districts to retain students who do not meet grade-level expectations in literacy.

The Board predicts that at least a third of all third-grade students in the district will be subject to the new policy.


Third graders who fall in the “approaching” category can opt to complete the summer tutoring program or can do a “high-dosage” intervention program throughout the entire fourth grade year. The year-long program would be a minimum of 30 minutes of instruction with a 1:3 teacher-student ratio twice a week.

Those students who are classified as “below” proficiency in ELA will be required to do both the summer tutoring program and the year-long fourth grade tutoring to be passed on from the third grade.

Any student who does not meet the requirement for their proficiency level will be retained in the third grade.

Breckan Duckworth, director of student acceleration for Hamilton County Schools, said, “First and foremost, our goal is that we want to ensure that as many third graders get promoted as possible. We are not in the game of wanting to retain a bunch of these students. We want to promote as many of our students as possible, and we think that we have a pretty good strategy to make sure that happens.”

The first step will be enrolling students who are not proficient in Summer Reach, Hamilton County’s summer program. All students will have to show growth on a post-test.

This summer’s program will run from June 5-30, 2023, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. A 90% attendance rate is required by the state. This means a student in Hamilton County could only miss two of the 20 days of the program.

The district is in conversation with the state about a policy that would allow a student to have three additional absences if a parent can provide documentation of private literacy training to cover those days. 

Students also have the option of retesting on the ELA portion of the TCAP test prior to the start of summer tutoring. That testing window will be available from May 30 to June 9.

Based on first-quarter benchmark scores, approximately 43% of third-graders in the county currently fall below the proficiency mark. This does not include any students with disabilities or English Language Learners. 

District officials say these numbers do not concern them yet as the students are only through the first quarter of the third-grade curriculum. However, if this year’s students score like last year’s third graders did, nearly two-thirds of them will be in the summer program.


Jill Black, board member from Lookout Mountain, expressed concern that more emphasis was not being placed on implementing literacy interventions now.

“I’m a bit unsettled at the strategy of waiting until the end of third grade to intervene when we know things are happening now,” Black said.

Duckworth insisted that the district is not putting off intervention and is already working to implement improved tutoring for students in grades K-3.

The new TISA funding formula for schools has allocated a pool of money for high-dosage tutoring, which will come out to around $300 per student. There is also state money that is allocated for K-3 literacy, which is about $500 per student. However, district officials say that is not enough as the district spent approximately $1300 per student last year.

“There is this funding gap,” said Superintendent Justin Robertson, “If we want to do well, and if we want to say we’re not just worried about third graders, but we’re worried about first graders, second graders, we’re worried about seventh graders, the funding that is in the TISA formula will not support what we need to do.”

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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