School Board Members Caycee Hanger Roberts, from left, Linda Jones, Sarah Marhevsky and Erik Cole discuss the third-grade retention law that has developed into a dilemma about whether to hold back children whose learning has been hindered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recently implemented law that could require many students to repeat the third grade due to COVID-19-related academic shortfalls is being questioned by Franklin County School Board members who are letting lawmakers know they have problems with the mandate.
The board approved a legislative agenda at its Jan. 10 meeting and adopted a memorandum to forward to the Legislature that states the School System would prefer the law be repealed, However, if it isn’t, the board is recommending the law be amended.
“We urge the General Assembly to pause implementation of the law,” the board states in the memo. “The current third-graders were most heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic, missing a substantial chunk of their formative kindergarten year through no fault of their own.
“Pausing implementation would also allow time to assess the goals of the retention law and the means of assessing them.”
The memo goes on to say:
“We urge the General Assembly to change the year of retention to second grade when students are learning to read and not reading to learn, which would be more educationally appropriate.
“We urge the General Assembly to include a good-cause exemption, allowing school districts to make retention decisions for students based on their own English and language arts data and from non-Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program sources, such as benchmark assessments.”
School Board Member Sara Liechty said what is taking place with the state government’s approach toward education is difficult to understand.
“What’s happening in Nashville right now really makes me sad,” she said.
School Board Member Linda Jones said the School Board’s position on third-grade retention needs to be made abundantly clear at the state level.
The memo says that if the retention law remains in place, the School Board is requesting additional funding for universal pre-kindergarten programs which would help support student literacy skills.
“This seems particularly important if the retention law remains,” the memo says.
The memo also says the School Board would like to see funding for all employees’ salaries and wages increased.
“We support increasing the state minimum for teacher salaries above the $45,000 minimum set for 2025.” the memo says.
It adds that with a dwindling number of students going into teaching and with teachers leaving the profession, a livable wage is a strong incentive to remain in the field.
“The same goes for our nurses, custodians, aides and other staff members,” the memo says.
It also says the School Board supports additional funding to improve teacher education, including scholarships for students graduating from high schools. The board also recommends a stronger focus be placed on “grow-your-own” programs.
The School Board is asking the Legislature to consider changing its approach to how the TCAP testing process is conducted.
“We support a clear study of the test by outside review to ensure that the test is unbiased and can accurately assess a student’s ability to read,” the memo says. “Our preference is to allow for benchmark testing.”
The School Board said the 70 percent proficiency requirement should be lowered.
The memo says that no county in the state reached that pinnacle last year, and test scores nationwide have been lower overall. The memo says that 50 percent seems like a more reasonable starting point.
“We all want the same thing — for students to be successful in the classroom and, therefore, successful in their lives and their ability to think critically,” the memo says. “There are many ways to measure that.”
The memo also asks the Legislature to consider making changes to how student progress is measured.
School Board members said that each year, a new group of third-graders will be assessed to see if there is an improvement in the percentage of students registered as “on track” or “mastered.”
“This, as the saying goes, is comparing apples to oranges,” the memo says.
The memo says a better test of a district’s ability to help students and to ensure they are growing as learners would be to track the same group for three years to see if their scores improve.
The memo also says the School Board opposes using public school funds for vouchers, tax credits, charter schools, education savings account programs or any other funding options that take funding away from public schools.