60% of Tennessee third-graders did not meet reading result expectations

Female teachers talking to third grade students
Photo: Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

(The Center Square) – Sixty percent of Tennessee third-graders did not meet the reading score requirement on the Tennessee Comprehensive Academic Program to qualify to advance to fourth grade without further action.

That 60% will now retake the TCAP test and, if they do not meet the grade requirement but are in the 35% who scored “approaching” on the test, the students will be allowed to participate in a reading summer camp, appeal the result or commit to take tutoring throughout fourth grade.

The Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps tutoring involves 30-40-minute small group sessions two or three times a week throughout the school year. The summer camp option, over four weeks, requires at least 90% attendance.

Appeals can be submitted between May 30 and June 30.

“There are so many student interventions we could be supporting to improve reading comprehension,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari. “High-stakes testing, with the threat of failing third grade, is not one of them.

“Important decisions about your child’s education should never be made based on a single test score. But the G.O.P. refused to listen to educators and passed their third-grade retention law anyway.”

Republican leadership, however, framed the results as an improvement on past results, when only 35% of students met expectations on the test in 2022 results and 32% did in 2021.

“The significant gains that we see on the third-grade ELA TCAP reflect the success that schools across the state are seeing under Reading 360 and other literacy efforts and will change the lives of thousands of students,” said outgoing Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “While we still have a long way to go before we reach the goals laid out in legislation, I appreciate the ongoing efforts of Tennessee schools as they implement summer and tutoring programs to provide students not yet on grade level with the supports they need to thrive.”

An amendment on the law signed by Gov. Bill Lee will add a second test option to advance next spring along with further funding for tutoring.

“The passage of this law resulting in thousands of third-graders repeating the third grade or attending summer school as a result of a single TCAP ELA score is yet another example of the inherent dangers of one-party rule in our state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons. “Local school officials and parents foresaw the impending disastrous effects of this law and formally asked the state to take corrective action. Gov. Lee and the GOP supermajority outright ignored these pleas and serious concerns by refusing to repeal or substantively amend the law before its enactment.”

State Republican leadership, however, believe the results show Tennessee students are advancing and the added emphasis on reading is having a positive impact.

“These results demonstrate that our state’s literacy strategy is working,” said Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Chairman Bo Watson. “It is not easy work, but it shows if we stay the course we can make a positive difference.”

Jon Styf
Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.

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