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Concerned parents, teachers and advocates are mobilizing over Tennessee's 3rd Grade Retention Law

“This third grade class were the pandemic babies," said Damon Curry Morris, Grandparent of a 3rd Grade Student.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Parents, teachers and students shared their growing concern ahead of the first year of Tennessee’s Third Grade Retention Law. It was approved back in 2021, but the 2022-2023 school year is the first time it has been in effect.  

If a third grader is not proficient in the reading test in April, they will be held back unless they can catch up over the summer.

Event’s like February’s Town Hall at the First Congregational Church are where advocates are trying to stand up for those being affected by this new law.  Many who attended voiced their concern about how this should not be the first year students are tested under the new law.  

Their education has been anything but typical. The students may have started in-person in kindergarten, but they shifted online due to the pandemic.  

Several classes remained online throughout the first and second grade. For a lot of these students, this was the first time it has felt like a normal school year, but the effects of the pandemic can still be felt.

“This third grade class were the pandemic babies. All of the research about the learning loss and the years it would take to recoup that learning loss is detrimental to this particular class,” said Damon Curry Morris, Grandparent of a 3rd Grade Student.

According to last year’s numbers, only about a third of third grade students in Tennessee would have qualified for the fourth grade. At Memphis-Shelby County Schools, the rate is worse, four out of five would not have moved on to the next grade.

Schools in Shelby County have been working to beat the statistic. Liberatas Charter School partnered with a local church to create a new summer program to help students catch up over the course of a month. 

MSCS launched an after school tutoring program, where tutors would work with students for an hour, two to three times a week. However at the town hall, some parents expressed their concern there were not enough tutors to meet the demand.

For some parents it has been a time of confusion and frustration, some feeling the schools had not done enough to inform them about how the law would impact them or their children. One of the points of contention has been the appeal process, which parents could try and go through to help students get into the fourth grade.

“The question becomes if the parent has to file an appeal, what is the time frame on that and will that be able to be rectified by the start of the 2023-2024 school year,” said Curry Morris.

Concerned parents, teachers and advocates are trying to mobilize at town halls like these to see if there is something they can do.  Many attendees are demanding the retention law should be changed or be waived for this first group of students in Tennessee.

“The goal here is to inform and advocate for our third graders so that the General Assembly, we support them, but we want them to support us as well while we are on the ground, and we know what works best for our third grade students, which is giving the autonomy back to the district and the teachers that know them best,” said Khalilah Horton-Spencer, M.I.C.A.H. Memphis Education Equity Co-Chair.

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