State Retention Law Could Force MNPS To Retain Nearly Three Fourths Of Third Graders

Image Credit: Judy Baxter / CC

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

State legislation could force nearly 73% of third graders in Metro Nashville Public Schools to repeat a grade if they do not show improvement in their reading scores.

The law, passed in January 2021, requires students to repeat third grade if they do not show that they have “met” or “exceeded expectations” on the state’s standardized TCAP reading test.

Only 27.4% of third graders in MNPS met that benchmark score on tests administered last spring. The school district showed some of the lowest achievement scores in reading in Middle Tennessee.

English language learners and students who have already been held back once are exempted from the law. All third graders who do not meet or exceed the state requirements in reading do have the option of participating in a summer reading camp or a year-long tutoring program in order to qualify to move on to fourth grade.

Officials with MNPS say they are already providing remediation to students, including tutoring and summer learning programs. New policies have been put into place to help increase literacy in all students.

“We do not believe third grade retention based on TCAP tests is either pedagogically sound or a research-based method for improving student learning and social-emotional outcomes and long-term success,” said Sean Braisted, an MNPS spokesperson.

The students who are currently in third grade and risk being retained are the group of students who missed out on the last few months of kindergarten when schools shut down for COVID-19 in March 2020.

A report from the Beacon Center, however, shows that MNPS has only used 18% of federal COVID-19 relief funds to help deal with learning loss form school closures. Instead, they have used a majority of the money on items that are not related to student achievement or COVID-19 related achievement gaps.

MNPS students are not the only ones who may not be promoted to the next grade. Statewide, only 35% of third graders met the required benchmark this past year, meaning nearly 2/3 of third grade students across the state could be required to do the year over again.

According to the state, “reading proficiently by third grade is highly correlated with high school completion, socioeconomic status, and lifelong health and wellness.”

The retention law was passed during a special session called by Governor Bill Lee to address a drop in literacy rates after those COVID-19 school closures. Additional legislation required schools to use phonics-based reading curriculum, create early literacy screeners for students, and provide learning camps and literacy tutoring.

At the time, Governor Lee said, “Our divisive action to intervene on behalf of Tennessee students will equip them for success, educating our kids better in the future than before the pandemic.”

Below are the numbers for Middle Tennessee third grade students who met or exceeded expectations on TCAP ELA tests:

  • Metro Nashville Public Schools – 27.4%
  • Murfreesboro City Schools – 40.6%
  • Rutherford County Schools – 39.3%
  • Williamson County Schools – 66.1%
  • Franklin Special School District – 55.9%
  • Wilson County Schools – 47.9%
  • Lebanon City Schools – 36.6%
  • Sumner County Schools – 44.8%
  • Robertson County Schools – 27%
  • Montgomery County Schools – 40%
  • Dickson County Schools – 36.9%
  • Maury County Schools – 32.9%

In an ongoing poll, The Tennessee Conservative asked, “Should the Tennessee legislature have postponed the rollout of 3rd Grade retention since this year’s 3rd-graders started Kindergarten during COVID?” At the time of this article’s publication 63% of respondents said YES, while 38% said NO.

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

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