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The Third-Grade Retention Law

Our Kids are #MoreThanATest

New state law TCA 49-6-3115 requires all third graders who do not pass a single standardized reading test be held back and repeat the third grade. Parents, teachers, and school administrators are overwhelmingly against this punishing law, but legislators and testing companies continue to push this on our already overburdened local school systems. 

Our statewide #MoreThanATest campaign has focused on amending the disastrous 3rd Grade Retention Law that the legislature passed in a special session last year. This law, is just another example of legislators making decisions that are not in the best interest of our schools, educators, or students. 

Why This Matters

  • 2021 statistics suggest that statewide, over 70% of 3rd and/or 4th graders could be held back and forced to repeat 3rd or 4th grade with this new law. Our buildings, teachers, staff and students cannot sustain this.

  • Remediation should be determined by the student's overall performance, along with the recommendation of their teachers; a child's fate should NOT be determined by a single test.  

  • Retention alone, especially by third grade, does not improve student outcomes: there are no data to support this law.

  • We need policies and funding that actually address student academic, social and emotional needs, not another high stakes standardized test.

  • Summer school has been proposed as a way for 3rd graders who don’t pass the test to get a second chance. However, school districts have not been given funding or a concrete plan for what this would look like. Furthermore, there is no evidence showing that summer school will have a significant impact on results of a single test.

What We're Asking

The General Assembly should amend TCA 49-6-3115 to allow retention to be based upon all school district information on each student, not a single standardized test. We want evidence-based assessment and learning solutions for our students grounded in good data and the real life experience of educators. Our legislators should focus on providing more skills-based reading intervention for K-2nd students, hiring more support staff, increasing teacher pay, and partnering with community agencies to meaningfully address student and staff mental/physical wellbeing.​

The Campaign

Since September of 2022, SOCM members across Tennessee have been testifying in front of school boards, writing letters and calling their legislators, and hosting public meetings to spread the word about this largely unknown law that passed quietly during a 2021 summer study session. Since then,

  • Over 1200 Tennesseans have sent almost 2400 personalized emails to their representatives via SOCM’s action link

  • Hundreds of calls have been made to key house committee members

  • We’ve held 6 statewide virtual meetings with parents and educators with an average attendance of over 50 parents, teachers and school board members

  • From these meetings, parents in 10 counties have organized 12 Town Halls and community meetings

“I've had more emails, phone calls, texts [and] Facebook messages about third-grade retention than anything else that I've ever had,”  - Sen. John Lundberg (R-Bristol)

Thanks in large part to our efforts, 19 bills were filed filed to amend this law, at least 28 school boards have passed resolutions asking the General Assembly to amend the law, and media attention on the issue has remained constant.

In March, despite the overwhelming pushback from parents, educators and administrators across the state, the General Assembly moved the law forward. 

“We have a school system that can do this job and we don’t need the legislature making blanket decisions about kids based only in one area and on one test.” - Lissa McLeod, Knox county parent and SOCM member

But this has catalyzed Tennesseans. Through this campaign hundreds of parents and educators have become involved in the fight for public education in their local communities.

While we are focused on making sure our representatives amend the 3rd Grade Retention Law this legislative season, we know that this is just one part of a much larger attack on public education in Tennessee. Our members and supporters are continuing to pay close attention to the role out of this law and continue to push for amendments in the 2024 session. 

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