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Tennessee Department of Education passes clarified policies behind third-grade retention law to state committee

Third-grade students are at risk of being held back if they do not score proficiently on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the TCAP.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Education presented the final policies behind the Third-Grade Retention Law to the State Board of Education Committee at a work session on Thursday. The policies passed Friday morning.

Students across Tennessee spent time from April 18 to May 5 participating in the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Students can "exceed," "meet," "approach" or be "below expectations" on the test.

Third-grade students are at risk of being held back if they do not score proficiently on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the TCAP.

However, there are a number of options available to at-risk students to prevent them from retaking the third grade.

The work session revealed the policies regarding the different options. These final policies had to be voted on and approved by the board.

One option is that at-risk students can attend summer school to prevent being held back.

Under the law, if a student attends summer learning camps as an option, they must show "adequate growth" at the end to qualify for promotion to fourth grade and maintain 90% attendance at the camp. 

The policy says adequate growth gives "students an opportunity to demonstrate that their performance can be responsive to interventions and additional supports such that, provided schools continue to proactively engage students in such supports, the student will continue to improve in the upcoming school year and beyond."

A "TCAP blueprint aligned assessment" will be given to students at the end of summer school. The test mirrors TCAP's ELA portion with passage sets and questions. The assessment "covers the standards as efficiently as possible to determine a student's responsiveness to interventions and supports," according to the Department of Education. 

The test will be given online and is shorter than the TCAP's ELA portion that students took during the school year. 

To calculate "adequate growth" the state will look at the student's baseline test—either their original ELA TCAP score or the retake ELA TCAP score (whichever is higher)—and look at the post-test score. The student must show a 5% point improvement between the two tests, the Department of Education said.

The state's formula for determining this is below. 

Credit: Department of Education
The formula used between the baseline score and post-test score to determine if the student has scored a 5% increase.

For example, 86% on a post-test and 78% on a baseline test show an 8% growth— meaning a student with these scores could move on to fourth grade if they maintained 90% attendance during summer school. 

Another option is that students can advance to the fourth grade with a tutor assigned to them.

The student will have two 30-minute sessions per week with a one-tutor-to-three-student ratio. 

The tutor can be hired by the TN ALL Corps grants program, which a majority of East Tennessee districts have. If the tutor is hired by the district separately, the tutor must have completed the department's TN ALL Corps training.

The third option is for a student to retake the ELA TCAP section. Retakes can happen from May 22 to June 5.  Retake scores will be available for viewing within 48 hours.

If a student scores below proficient on a third-grade test but meets the requirements of summer learning and/or tutoring and promotes to the fourth grade, they must then show growth on the fourth-grade TCAP test before being promoted to the fifth grade, according to the Department of Education. 

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