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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Only 1.2% to repeat 3rd grade due to Tennessee 'reading gate'

Sixty percent of Tennessee third graders faced the prospect of repeating the grade, but only 1.2 percent failed to get past the "reading gate," reports Hechinger's Ariel Gilreath. Another 17 percent are in mandatory tutoring and could repeat fourth grade if they don't make sufficient progress.

Of 44,000 third grade students who scored low enough to be at risk of retention, under 900 students were actually held back, she writes. That's similar to retention rates before the new literacy law passed, says a report from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance.

More than 12,000 students, or just under 17 percent, are in fourth grade receiving mandatory tutoring. If they don't make sufficient progress, they could repeat fourth grade.

About 24 percent of third graders were exempt from retention because they had a disability, were an English language learner with less than two years of English instruction, were previously retained or met other exemptions, according to the state’s report.

"An additional 10 percent of students were granted a waiver because their parents appealed," writes Gilreath. Another seven percent retook the test and passed or showed "adequate growth" in summer school.

Sonya Thomas, co-founder of the parent advocacy group Nashville PROPEL, supports Tennessee's literacy push, but says, "We should not have to wait until third grade to know whether a child is going to pass or fail.”

"Studies on the impact of retaining students are generally mixed, but the practice is more successful with younger students and when it is coupled with resources and support aimed at helping students catch up," she reports.

Tennessee is trying to emulate Mississippi, which has significantly improved reading scores by a policy that includes training teachers in research-based reading practices, tutoring and retaining third grades with low reading skills, writes Gilreath. "Mississippi held back 8 percent of third graders in 2015, the first year its retention policy was in place."

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