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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Tennessee board: Don't wait till 3rd grade to retain poor readers

Help struggling readers starting in kindergarten, says Tennessee's school board in a resolution. If they need more time to build"foundational literacy skills," have them repeat the grade. Don't wait till they fail a proficiency test at the end of third grade.

A 2021 literacy law created "popular summer learning camps and tutoring programs," reports Marta W. Aldrich on Chalkbeat. "It also included less popular provisions increasing the likelihood that third and fourth graders could be held back a grade eventually if they don’t perform well enough in English language arts under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP."

Third grade is too late,” Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds said last month.

"Thousands of third graders were at risk of being held back last year because of their TCAP scores, but ultimately only about 900 third graders, or 1.2% were retained — not significantly more than in an average school year — thanks to intervention options and an appeals process that many families took advantage of," writes Aldrich.

However, low scorers who moved on to fourth grade must show proficiency or "adequate growth" to move on to fifth grade. Officials say many will have to repeat fourth grade.

Tennessee students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade now take three tests during the year to screen for reading challenges. That data should be used to trigger "supports, interventions, and retention decisions," the board said.

Teachers "say the earlier, the better," said Larry Jensen, a board member from West Tennessee. "Let's not wait."

It's a lot easier to repeat kindergarten than to repeat third or fourth grade. But some held-back students won't be proficient readers in third grade.

As a reading tutor, I've worked with first graders who were going to be diagnosed with dyslexia or some other learning disability -- eventually. But district policy said they couldn't be evaluated till second grade. Until then, they had an untrained volunteer -- me -- watching them get farther and farther behind.

One girl took eight months to master "the cat sat on the mat." She happened to be very young for the grade. I suggested she repeat the year. The teacher said: "Yes, absolutely. She'll never make it in second grade. But it's impossible." School policy.

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Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Mar 10

Gandhi wrote that parents are the natural teachers of their own children. A loving mother can teach a child to read (i.e., decode the phonetic alphabet) before that child can speak. Follow the moving finger across the page, milk and cookies on the side. Children will work for love and cookies.

Age-graded schools waste most children's time. The batch process factory model must go.


Mar 06

I am ancient enough to remember when kids had to meet kindergarten-readiness standards in order to start school. Standards included colors, letter, numbers, alphabet, counting to 10, appropriate behavior - and tying shoes (no Velcro existed) and riding a two-wheeler (the latter two beyond rare today). My DH remembers his mother working with his little sister to make sure she could pass. Also, retention was common; starting in kindergarten. My class started with twin boys; only one of whom made it to third grade with us (and might not have made it to second, but I can’t remember). When retention was common, it wasn’t as big a deal as it is today.

Mar 07
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One may want to look up "alternative high schools" where the worst students are sent to keep them away from others. Of course, one of the issues is that alternative high school will be much more male and black than the overall student body of a district.

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