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State touts 'historic gains', yet 60% of Tennessee third graders fall short on TCAP reading scores

Under new retention law, students who fail to score high enough on TCAP test face possible summer school or a tutoring program to be able to move to fourth grade.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While the Tennessee Department of Education is touting ‘historic gains’ in third grade reading as statewide TCAP scores are being released to parents, the TDOE said about 60% of third graders across the state still fell short.

Under the new retention law, students who fail to score high enough on the standardized TCAP test will face possible summer school or a tutoring program to be able to move on to the fourth grade.

According to the TDOE, the spring 2023 Tennessee Comprehensive Academic Program (TCAP) showed for third graders in English Language Arts (ELA):

  • 40% scored ‘proficient’
    • 27% ‘met’ expectations,
    • 13% ‘exceeded’ expectations,
  • 35% of third graders were ‘approaching’ expectations,
  • 25% were ‘below.’

Friday, the TDOE said individual ELA scores for third graders were shared with Tennessee school districts, and those districts will communicate with families about the scores and pathways to fourth grade promotion, including the TCAP retake opportunity, free summer camp and/or tutoring in the upcoming school year.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education, students have between May 22 and June 5 to retake the test. Here’s a look at the TDOE timeline HERE, and read more on available resources from the TDOE HERE.

The TDOE said “Families can find critical timeline information posted on the department’s website and should coordinate with their student’s school to ensure they can make informed decisions about their student’s education.”

The TDOE said the 40% mark scoring proficient is a 4.3 percentage point increase from 2022. The department said this is the largest increase in a single year of third graders whose ELA scores met or exceeded expectations since Tennessee updated its ELA academic standards in 2017.

For more information about Tennessee’s third grade acceleration strategy, visit https://www.tn.gov/education/top-links/learning-acceleration.html.

Gov. Lee & Education Commissioner tout 'success'

“The ability to read at grade level determines a student’s success in the classroom and beyond, and we’re encouraged that our strategic literacy investments have already resulted in historic gains across the state,” said Governor Bill Lee. “As we continue our work to deliver strong reading skills to benefit every student, we’re committed to giving families multiple pathways that will support student promotion and achievement.”

"Students, teachers, districts, and families have worked incredibly hard to improve reading proficiency in Tennessee and their efforts should be celebrated,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. "The significant gains that we see on the 3rd 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. 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."

TN Democrats call out G.O.P.

State Democratic leaders disagree about the success.

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons said in a statement: “The negative impact of Gov. Bill Lee and Commissioner Penny Schwinn's disastrous 'third grade retention law' is hitting home across Tennessee, turning families' plans and the educational futures of many Tennessee students upside-down. The ill-conceived Republican law that placed undue emphasis on a single standardized test was introduced by Gov. Lee and blindly shepherded through the legislature by the GOP supermajority during a special session with little consideration and even less debate. 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. 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.

Ultimately, the anti-public school crusaders and architects of the false 'failing schools' narrative, Republicans Gov. Bill Lee and Penny Schwinn, consider this law a political 'win,' because they have yet again undermined our state's education system by reducing trust in public schools and placing even more emphasis on standardized tests, at the expense of our students."

Senator Raumesh Akbari, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said: “There are so many student interventions we could be supporting to improve reading comprehension. 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.

“Now 60% of third graders could be held back. No one benefits from this manufactured chaos.”

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