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What Memphis parents are saying about attempts to change the controversial 3rd grade retention law

On Tuesday, four bills cleared the house’s K-12 Committee. The bills could lead to fewer third grade students from being held back.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Parents are responding after Tennessee Lawmakers moved forward in tweaking the state’s controversial 3rd Grade Retention Law.  

On Tuesday, four bills cleared the house’s K-12 Committee. The bills could lead to fewer third grade students from being held back if they are not proficient on the state’s reading test.

However, a Cordova mother tells ABC24 the lawmakers are focused on the wrong thing.

“I think that 3rd grade is too young to start that type of testing,” said Jennifer Byerly Farrell.  

Farrell is one of several Tennessee parents working with her kids ahead of the looming reading test next month.

“We’ve had to work extra with my oldest son on his reading just to make sure he passes,” said Farrell.

As it stands now, if third graders do not pass the test, they must either show improvement during summer school, or repeat the third grade. This could impact areas like Memphis and Shelby County; nearly four out of five of its third graders were not proficient enough on the test last year.

State lawmakers are open to making some changes to the retention law, but out of the proposed 19 pieces of legislation, only four bills survived Tuesday’s committee.

HB 0270 would act like a second chance, where students could still move to the fourth grade if they score high enough on Tennessee’s Universal Reading Screener, which students already take.  It would also allow school district to file an appeal on behalf of the student.

HB 0978 would do something similar to the latter. It would allow parents to appeal directly to the Tennessee Department of Education.
HB 0437 proposes adding a section to the TDOE website that details the appeals process for parents, and local school districts if any student fails and is expected to be held back.

HB 1364  would give lawmakers access they did not have before to the Tennessee Learning Loss and Progress Reports to review statistics.

While progress is still being made in the legislature, parents like Farrell say these changes are not good enough, instead more leeway is needed this year and into the future.

“I’ve got one kindergartener who’s being taught by a long-term substitute teacher, how is that preparing them for testing,” said Farrell.

There are senate versions of each bill making their way through the general assembly.

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