Understanding Tennessee’s 3rd-Grade Retention Law

Image Credit: tn.gov

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Third and fourth graders across the state are waiting for TCAP test results that will determine how they will spend their summer and the upcoming school year. 

Because of 2021 legislation that took effect in 2023, current third graders who score at the “below” or “approaching” proficiency level on the TCAP English Language Arts test may have to repeat the grade unless they can pass a retest, enroll in a summer program where they show “adequate growth”, or sign up for year-long tutoring for their fourth-grade year.

Students who fell below proficiency must complete the summer program and the year-long tutoring.

Last year, only about 1% of Tennessee’s third graders were retained, although 60% of students failed to meet proficiency on the reading benchmark. Retests, summer school, and an appeal process allowed nearly all of them to move on to the fourth grade.

Over 12,000 students in last year’s third grade group chose to participate in the yearlong tutoring program in order to move on to the next grade. Those students are now required by the law to show “adequate growth” in order to avoid even more tutoring and be promoted to the fifth grade.

While legislators removed a portion of the law in April that would require mandatory retention for students who do not show adequate growth, the updated law requires that the school must confer with guardians, teachers, and administration to determine whether the child should be retained or should go on to fifth grade with academic interventions.

“Adequate growth” is determined by factoring in the student’s TCAP score along with the chance that they have to eventually test at the proficient level, allowing that growth measure to be individualized.

Third grade ELA scores are expected to be released on May 20. Data showing adequate growth numbers for fourth graders should be sent out by July 1.

Parents of third graders who score in the approaching category can file an appeal within 14 days of being notified of retention. Appeals may be granted if the student scores at or above the 40th percentile on an approved universal reading screener or if the child faced a “catastrophic event” within 60 days of testing that had an impact on their testing performance.

No fourth-grade students are allowed to appeal.

The Tennessee Department of Education has released additional information and an infographic detailing the guidelines for third and fourth grade retention and promotion on the state website.

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