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School board asks state for law change
Grant Swallows new mug.jpg
Grant Swallows

Parents and families of third graders in the Warren County school system should be expecting a letter regarding the Third Grade Retention law that was passed in Tennessee recently. The Warren County school board voted to send a resolution asking the General Assembly to amend the law.

Director of Schools Grant Swallows explained the new law to the school board, “Ultimately, what it says is any third-grade student that is not proficient on the ELA (English/ Language Arts) portion of the TCAP will be retained in the third grade with some exceptions.”

Swallows added, “The goal behind it is for all our third grade students to be meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA on TCAP.” He continued, “We certainly understand and agree with that goal. We want our third grade students to be reading proficiently because that is extremely important. We know that those are formative years, pre-k to third grade, for them to be able to establish and be able to read proficiently.”

Swallows said that if they aren’t proficient by third grade, then evidence has shown that they’re constantly playing catch-up. “I do applaud the thought behind this,” he said. “Ultimately, if that were to happen today, in Tennessee, almost 70 percent of all third graders would be retained. That’s a lot of third graders staying in third grade for one more year.”

Swallows immediately recognized the issues pertaining to this law in that third grade class sizes would increase and fourth grade classes would decrease. “Understand that there are exceptions to that,” he added.

“A student that is an ELL (English language learner) and has received less than two years of ELA instruction can be exempted from that. A student who was previously retained in grades kindergarten through three, they would not be able to be retained. Or a student who has a disability or suspected disability that impacts reading, that would allow that student to move on.”

He said other students could be exempt from being retained if they retested in the summer, attended and maintained a 98 percent attendance rate at the Learning Loss camp in the summer where they would have to pass the post-test and show growth, or are assigned a tutor through the TN ALL Corps. 

Swallows said, “That is not something we were previously doing. We were doing that tutoring locally through our ESSER funding, but I will tell you, when we were tearing apart this law, we felt like we have to get involved with this. So we already contacted the Dept. of Education about being able to join the TN ALL Corps program, and they’re willing to bring us on.”

Students who choose the tutoring option would have to receive low-dosage tutoring throughout their entire fourth grade year. Aside from the concerns of classroom size issues that this may cause, Swallows expressed concerns for finding more tutors and that some students don’t test as well on TCAP despite performing well on screeners throughout the year.

“This letter is going to go out to our families because we want them to be informed about what’s going on. But, two, we’re trying to encourage them to reach out to their teachers,” he said. “I want to reiterate, that’s where we want them to be. But we also have to be realistic and acknowledge that more than half are not there currently.”

The resolution presented to the board urges the General Assembly to amend the law to allow the local education system to make the retention decisions. Swallows reiterated that the TN legislatures have the same goal as Warren County schools, but the resolution would give schools more flexibility.

Swallows told the board, “I wanted to spend some time talking about it tonight because I wanted our public to know, I wanted you all to know, that this is a real thing. This is this year’s third graders that are affected by this law. If the General Assembly does not act in their upcoming session beginning in January, then there will be some third grade students that will be retained based on this.”

The school board unanimously approved the resolution and it will be sent to the General Assembly.