Heads Up: PSA – Third Grade Retention Policies

It’s time to roll out something unrelated to the usual. This Heads Up addresses a failure created by the Law of Good Intentions in our state. It may apply in your state as well. Its misapplication can have lifelong negative effects on lives of millions.

In March 2021 the state of TN legislature and governor in a reactionary situation passed § TCA 49-6-3115. It requires students who do not score well in Reading on a standardized test called TCAP to either repeat the third grade, go to summer school and/or attend tutoring sessions in the fourth grade. There are exceptions that exempt students with IEP’s, 504 program participants who have documented disabilities, previous retainees, etc.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) issues the national report card on reading progress. Politicians then proceed to use it as a political football.

In 2011 the State of Tennessee turned over all grade promotion decisions to teachers and individual district administrations in an attempt to improve standardized test reading scores that had been at less than desired levels for years as determine by mandated standardized reading proficiency tests that had no enforcement provision on the schools and students (required retention). There was hope that would help the situation. They gave it ten years and became disappointed with the results. So they passed this law, which is similar to what has been activated in some other states. However, they provided very little input, no implementation plan, and no budgetary or operational details to the schools.


Complicating matters were their own failed previous attempts to modernize the actual electronic system of testing. It failed in spectacular fashion causing great embarrassment to government officials. It remains a time consuming, manually completed process at present.

Conditions on the Ground

The statistics that follow were provided by our local school district in a recent meeting with parents as well as being found on the TN.gov website. As things currently stand, 78% of the third grade students in the state do not meet or exceed reading skills requirements per the results of the last test. It is 68% in our school district. There are over 950,000 K-12 students in the state. Approximately 72,000 (per 2021 state statistics) of that number would be third graders subject to this law minus about 17,000 exemptions, leaving 55,000 eligible to meeting the law’s requirements. All of the students took the TCAP test no matter exemption status. There are four classifications of student test scores: Below, Approaching, Meets, Exceeds. In the Below category are 22% of all third grade students at the start of the school year in 2022 from the previous year’s testing of second graders. Very few in this group who are subject to the law will ever meet or exceed the required score to be promoted to fourth grade. That is approximately 12,000 students that will be required to attend summer school for 4 weeks as well as have the use of a tutor their fourth grade school year. It is not an either/or situation for this group.

That leaves another 31,000+ (56%) of applicable students in the Approaching category. There is still time for them to learn enough to achieve a sufficient test score. However, historically that has not been the case per school teachers and officials. Typically only about 10% or so of that total will be able to do so, but let’s say 20% will due to the increased emphasis by schools. That leaves about 25,000 students that will not. Those remaining Approaching students have the choice to attend summer school for the four week period OR have a tutor in fourth grade.

If they remain in public school, the Below and Approaching students and their parents have no choice in the matter. The procedure above is mandated if they want to be promoted to fourth grade. They have the option of being retained and not go to summer school or be tutored. No matter their TCAP test score the following year, they would be promoted to fourth grade if they make that later choice. Very few parents make that choice for retention. In the school of our grandchildren there has been only voluntary retention in several years per the principal.

Cost Calculations

The subsequent guidance to the schools about the law’s requirements are that there must be one tutor for every three eligible students in fourth grade. If all eligible students are on the path of potentially using a tutor, that means the 147 school districts in the state must provide tutors for reading improvement for 37,000 students unless a miracle happens. Class size for third grade is capped at 25 students by state law. The required ratio of students per tutor is 3:1. Based upon their normal daily class scheduling, one tutor could accommodate an average of three groups of reading students per day. The school would need to employ the tutor for a minimum of half a day subject to the school’s third grade enrollment and scheduling needs. In most cases it would be a full time position of 30 hours per week or more due to the sheer numbers of students being tutored. Assume 5 hours per day per tutor for the three classes totaling a maximum of 9 students, which similar amounts of full time and part time tutors. That indicates a total need of over 4100 tutors. Said tutors will not come cheap if sufficient numbers of them are even found.

Assume all of the parents of the Approaching group agree that the most sensible thing is to have a tutor assist their child with Reading (duh) in the fourth grade to comply. Parents of IEP and handicapped kids already know the excellent added value of teaching assistants. The district would be paying tutors for about 5 hours average work per day for approximately 185 days counting in-service requirements, which is 925 work hours. The math indicates the total cost to the districts at a low ball estimate of all-in expense of $20 per hour would be around $18,500 per tutor per school year. Multiply that times 4100 tutors and the ballpark cost per year is approximately $76 million give or take 10%. All for a better reading score on a poorly designed test. Which leaves the unanswered question to this point, who pays for this? Well, we know, the local districts which are funded by tax revenues in the local counties of course.

Oh my…


The TCAP test has been around for 3 decades in TN, since 1989. When they first trotted it out our daughter was a small child. Back in those days it was just used as a tool to give an indication of where each student stood in various subjects. Over time the state began pushing it harder.

In Tennessee all school districts are given freedom of choice of several state approved curriculums. However, CRT is banned in all. The choice of curriculum can actually be a good thing when it is not corrupted by common core and other woke, progressive crap; which was supposedly (not really) banned as well. The decisioning on which curriculum is chosen is by each local district per state law, which gives local parents the opportunity to weigh in. As a result it can be more reflective of the people and region, to make learning more applicable to the circumstances, culture and environment of the local people. As an example state residents know that Tennessee is really three distinct states. A student in Memphis to the west will be very different than a student from east TN no matter race, ethnicity, etc. They will learn differently and be influenced by different cultural forces around them. To reach them where they are and encourage learning they need to have suitable curriculum they can relate to more readily. In many other states there is only one curriculum, which their standardized retention testing is geared around. They go one size fits all, which is not nearly as responsive to the needs of the students. The students are taught to meet the needs of the testing.

It makes it more difficult in states like ours to use one standardized test when the districts have the freedom to choose curriculums. For example, some curriculums use larger fonts with more images to assist third graders in their learning. They tell more interesting, relatable stories for children as compared to what is provided on the TCAP version. That test uses a smaller font and virtually no imagery with plain vanilla stories, statements and questions. It is left to each district as to how they test students in regular classwork. Some build in timed tests occasionally throughout the school year to better acclimate students and some do not. Many of the freedoms provided actually work against the timed standardized TCAP test method, yet, provide the student a much better overall educational experience.

The truth is that some students do not react well to standardized or timed tests. Yet, they excel in the classroom (and life) while making high grades in subjects. Some of these same students are scoring in the Below or Approaching categories for TCAP. Parents see A’s and B’s on grade cards and wonder what in the Sam Hill the school is talking about with grade retention, summer school and tutoring of their kids due to the results of one test that is not even created to fit the curriculum taught by their school district.

The senseless is made ridiculous by the inadequacies of administering and scoring of the tests. The results will not be back in the districts’ hands until the school year is nearly over. Parents in the Below category will not know if their child must attend summer school and the Approaching will not know if they have that option until it is nearly time to go. The inconvenience to families and schools is really bad and unnecessary.

The Rest of the Story

The best I can determine, there are around 20-25 states in the nation that have third grade retention policies that use standardized testing. Some states are looking at it again to make up for the inevitable drop that occurred in reading performance through the COVID years. However, many of them only teach one curriculum statewide making the performance on standardized tests easier. Other long term participants in the policy have learned that it is not all that valuable. Florida was one of the early adopters twenty years ago under Jeb! and had some initial success with it. However, over time the results neutralized and in recent years have been steadily declining in performance. As a result they along with Mississippi have recently dropped the policy. Other states have found that retaining more students for underperformance resulted in major increases in middle school and older drop outs. The National Teachers Council of English strongly oppose these policies. They state they are “ill-advised” and perpetuate a “cycle of punishment” that disproportionately affects students of color, impoverished children, English language learners and special needs students in some states. Other organizations view it the way many parents do, if retention is just a repeat of 3rd grade with no changes instructionally in the content of subjects, what has actually been accomplished?

My Response

I have emailed the following to our legislators and governor.

To Our Tennessee Leadership

Very few people are upset that you want to improve the reading skills of young students beyond what has been happened historically. That is an important initiative to accomplish. However, passage of § TCA 49-6-3115 with the third grade retention policy will likely achieve the opposite of the desired effect.

The reading proficiency issue has generally not been due to the poor performance of teachers, students or parents. The primary issue is the test and has been since its inception three decades ago. Taking one timed standardized test well at the end of the school year to determine proficiency is not necessarily connected to actually learning the content taught in classes throughout the course of a school year. There is more to it than taking one test well, no matter how many times it is retaken.

First, if the test is not fully reflective of the state approved curriculum chosen by each district, it is not the teachers or students at fault for lower than desired test scores. That is the fault of you, the state’s leadership assigned to the task. Resolve this test format and content issue.

Second, it is likely none of you as students ever faced a law like you have imposed on these students, families, teachers and administrators. The law as written and implemented is only going to alienate students and their parents more by removing the option for thousands of children to enjoy to a normal summer break. Do not add to that burden unless the parents voluntarily choose to enroll their children.

Third, parents are over the stress of the last few years and homeschooling is increasing significantly. The way COVID was handled by the federal government, most states and many school districts only reinforced their decisions. In the middle of it, you passed this law like a few other states who have panicked over lower than desired test scores due to something that was not their fault. Parents and students view the law as unwarranted punishment.

Fourth, some are suggesting having only one curriculum available to all students in the state. That serves the test, not the students if their educational progress is the primary goal.

Fifth, a large percentage of students who are making good to excellent grades in their classwork are not meeting or exceeding TCAP proficiency requirements for reading. Most of these students are highly verbal, strong readers with good comprehension skillsets. They are not being “given” good grades by teachers to just pass them on. So why are they not doing well on the TCAP test, but are on all of the other tests and class work? That question answers itself. Clue – its the TCAP test and method that is utilized.

Had you asked before enacting, we the parents and citizens of the state would tell you a TCAP test should never determine retention. Retention should be determined on the local district level with a full body of work in consideration. Mandatory summer school is never a good idea. School fatigue is a real problem in most families. Providing the option of voluntary summer school participation for parents of Below and Approaching proficiency students hands the decision to the parents where it belongs.

What should happen is the addition of more full and part time teaching assistants who focus on reading achievement as well as other designated subjects in each grade from K-6. You have already demonstrated you know how to increase the number of tutors and education costs dramatically with the passage of the bill in discussion. The ratio of students to teaching assistant can be raised well above 3:1 and still be highly effective for all subjects while lowering the cost to districts and tax payers below this law. The need to learn reading well and for comprehension begins in Kindergarten and progresses through the third grade into 6th grade. It is a six to seven year process, not one to two. Using the TCAP as just another tool for each student to inform their progress as was done in the past adds value. Modifying the test to fit the format and content of actual state approved curriculums would help greatly.

Reimagine what education is for these children from their standpoint and develop an improved system that serves them well. In turn, the desired goal of learning at a higher level will be achieved in Reading as well as all other subjects.

You have some decisions to make. Choose wisely.

Best Regards.



When our daughter and son-in-law contacted our area’s state Representative, he was very cordial and responsive. He has been inundated with calls as the local district held meetings for all parents in every primary school to inform them of what was coming. He let them know the state legislature was discussing changes to the law as the concerns were being heard loudly by all of them statewide. He thinks it will take 5-6 months to change it. Parents are telling them to change it back or say goodbye to their jobs come election time. The passion is high. However, this same guy who we have known well most of his life claimed to have no idea that Common Core was still being taught in schools in his district. His comment was, “I thought we got rid of that a long time ago.” Technically they did terminate it in legislation. However, some teachers and state approved curriculum still utilize it anyway. He now knows the truth.

I do not anticipate they will change it back immediately. I think they will postpone for a year and try to make some tweaks, which will not work. Over thirty years of failure is indicative of future results. There will probably need to be some legislators fired before they get the message. Which is interesting because parents are angry enough about all this they may do exactly that. You want to rile folks up, mess with their kids.

Be vigilant about this issue with your children, grandchildren and others. It matters. Bad laws and policies in public schools can change the trajectory of our children’s lives forever.

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What a nightmare.

Hire people who taught in the schools 30+ years ago, to teach current teachers how to do it the way that worked.

And institute a zero tolerance policy for administrative political correctness.

But that will never happen.

None of our public institutions are salvageable, they have all been intentionally sabotaged for decades. And breaking stuff is easy, it’s creating and building that is hard. That’s why some monster like Hussein could come in and wreck the whole country in under 4 years.

The public school system is the Hindenburg.

Seems like the best thing you can do is save yourselves by climbing down one of the landing line ropes before it crashes and burns.

Last edited 7 months ago by scott467
Valerie Curren

at 45 secs it sure looks like a swastika on the back fins–yikes!


Actual domestic terrorists from the Weathermen/Weather Underground of the hippy days, Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, have been advising the teachers unions to “reimagine education” for years. This is what is behind it.

Common Core sounds a little like The Core Collection which woke libraries are using to purge classics, history and anything critical of communism or weirdly islam. The American Library Association elected an open Marxist as President.

Legally she should not be employed by the State of New York per their laws. She works at CUNY which is publicly funded.

Conservatives talk and complain and never act. Someone should sue NY and CUNY—and they’d win!

Many states have similar laws about illegal to Be a member of a subversive organization and have a publicly funded job or hold office, and some states like Washington specifically called out communist party.

Stop talking and start filing lawsuits.

Activist judges should also be targeted with disbarring or removal.

Read your state laws and get busy.

This Is why all the books one electronic two and not being sent home. A Pearson textbook from a few years ago stated the Weimar Republic was the ideal form of society. And if a teacher does not know the history they will say that and the kids will repeat it and everyone will go off thinking that’s true. I’m sure for some people they considered the communist Weimar Republic great. You had a transgender Institute, you had rampant child pedophilia kids would wear different colored hats or boots are train stations are bus stations depending on the sexual act they would perform, he had a massive printing of money remember the wheelbarrows of cash, and you had communist antifa which was a youth organization running around then using violence to silence I need to set.

It’s why all the text books are electronic too and not being sent home. A Pearson textbook from a few years ago stated the Weimar Republic was the ideal form of society. If a teacher does not know their history, they will repeat that and the kids will echo and everyone will go off thinking that’s true.

I’m sure for some people they considered the communist Weimar Republic great. You had a transgender institute, you had rampant child pedophilia—kids would wear different colored hats or boots at train stations or bus stations depending on the sexual act they would perform, you had massive printing of money which devalues your currency, remember the wheelbarrows of cash, and you had communist antifa which was a youth organization running around using violence to silence any dissent.

Not saying we need Hitler.

But Ayers mentors BLM too and the young spray paint Be Water, Spread Fire from his Prairie Fire Manifesto. He is a communist and admits to pushing cultural marxism.

Folks need to point out to the young that most of “the rich” are Dems, like Buffett, Bezos, Gates. That’s why the rich who live around Nashville vote blue. Like Napa, or Aspen and Vail etc.


It’s hard to believe that you need to explain that doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results, is insane. How well can the government leaders do on the TCAP test?


Public education is a mess, top to bottom. And for many parents, it really is the only option.

I get that conservatives really, really want people to home school, but not everyone can.

Testing is a touchy subject with me. I studied how to develop tests that measure what you are trying to measure pretty extensively in college. Most of the tests I see in real life are very badly designed. It’s frustrating.

My personal opinion is that teaching children to read went sideways when they stopped teaching phonics. It’s the best and easiest way for people to learn, and the system dropped it. We need a resurgence of phonics, asap.


I agree. The tests are bad.

Worse to me is the fact that your bright grandson is getting “dinged” for not sounding out words he already knows. I learned to read at age three, and it was very frustrating to be held back by teachers. The best thing to do for him is give him words he must sound out, because he can’t read them, as you are doing. His teachers should be challenging him, as well.


Would “TCAP or other state-approved test” potentially make a large difference, assuming that the other test wouldn’t be just dumbed-down?

Incidentally, I kept wanting to type TDAP for the name of the test, and — sadly — could well imagine a government saying, “pass the test or get the shot.”




Incidentally, I had a four-part anecdote of how HR can be dangerous in your last BIMD. Sometimes they go rogue.


Never mind, you’d been by — my little green circle was misbehaving.


Just shows that it is the parent who is the primary teacher of a child.
My kids all were able to read before Kindergarten because I read to them beginning early in their live. No TV the first 4 years. I think it is a combination of failed teachers and education and to much electronics in childrens life. Unless a child has learning problems.
Also bad diets not enough sleep contributes to concentration problems on top of bad education.

Wolf Moon | Threat to Demonocracy


I am always suspicious of “extra reading” – particularly by “assistants” and tutors.

This is a very easy way to sneak in highly personalized woke indoctrination, including TRANS, using materials that are not visible to parents.

Thus, I imagine that this is one way TRANS activists gain access to kids.