The Tennessee General Assembly seems to believe that the problem with their third grade retention law is that people are calling it a “retention law,” rather than an “achievement law.” Regardless of what they want to call the law, the impact of the law is massive retention of third graders.

Legislators who promised to listen to parents are now backpedaling, reportedly due to pressure from Governor Lee, who strongly wants to retain over half of our third graders this year.

Legislators are set to consider bills to amend the law on March 7th, so it is urgent that you contact members of the House and Senate Education committees right now.

The Editorial below is from TPEC and can be read in The Tennesseean, here:

Retention in third grade is a controversial policy that involves holding back students who fail to meet minimum ELA proficiency standards.

Four arguments against third-grade retention

While the intention behind this policy is to improve student achievement and ensure they are adequately prepared for later grades, there is evidence to suggest that retaining students in third grade may have negative impacts that outweigh any potential benefits. Here are several arguments against third grade retention for poor ELA test scores:

  • Lack of evidence for effectiveness: Research has shown that retention in early grades is not an effective solution for improving student achievement in the long-term. In many cases, students who are held back in early grades end up performing worse than their peers in later grades.
  • Damages student confidence: Retention can lead to feelings of shame and frustration. When students are held back in early grades, they may feel as though they have failed and are not smart enough, damaging their motivation to learn and their future academic success.
  • Widens achievement gaps: Retention can contribute to the widening of achievement gaps between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Children from low-income families are more likely to be retained in early grades due to limited access to high-quality early childhood education and support at home. This reinforces a cycle of poverty and underachievement.
  • Increased risk of dropping out: Research has shown that students who are retained are more likely to drop out, with serious implications for their future academic and career prospects.

High quality tutoring and summer learning opportunities can be beneficial, but there is little to no evidence that either Tennessee’s summer school program (Learning Loss Bridge Camps) or the tutoring program (Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps) established by the law are effective at improving student achievement. Both programs were thrown together quickly after the passage of the law. There have been no independent evaluations of how effective these programs actually are.

A better approach would focus on very early evaluation for struggling readers, and a robust program of academic supports and interventions beginning in kindergarten and continuing as long as needed. Retention should be limited to Pre-K, kindergarten or possibly first graders; third grade is too late.

While the intention behind retention is to improve student achievement, third and fourth grade retention is likely to add another trauma to the ACEs already experienced by children. Retention is likely to undo any potential good that might result from Learning Loss Bridge Camp or the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps programs.

Contact your Tennessee legislators and ask them to invest in academic supports and interventions for our youngest school children and to leave retention decisions to teachers and parents, where they belong.

Signed by members of the Tennessee Public Education Coalition.

  1. Josh Anderson-Anderson County
  2. Joe Fink- Anderson County
  3. Terri M. Gilbert- Anderson County
  4. Susan Fowler- Anderson County
  5. Ann Gann- Anderson County
  6. Larry Gann- Anderson County
  7. Lori C. Houck- Anderson County
  8. Marsha Livingston- Anderson County
  9. Liz McGeachy- Anderson County
  10. Carolynne Moss- Anderson County
  11. Robert Moss- Anderson County
  12. Maria Orlando – Anderson County
  13. V. L. Stonecipher – Anderson County
  14. Patsye Thurmon- Anderson County
  15. Karlene Richter- Anderson County
  16. Mary Fell- Anderson County
  17. Florence Plemmons- Anderson County
  18. Theresa Venale- Anderson County
  19. Gloria Caton- Anderson County
  20. Pat Petrie- Anderson County
  21. Diane Alsop- Anderson County
  22. Sandy Christen- Anderson County
  23. Melanie Harles- Anderson County
  24. Miriam Wankerl- Anderson County
  25. Kari Iwanski – Anderson County
  26. Mary Elizabeth Alexander- Anderson County
  27. Patricia H. Aldridge- Blount County
  28. Ginny Ayers- Blount County
  29. Brenda Bell- Blount County
  30. Katy Chiles- Blount County
  31. Douglas Gamble- Blount County
  32. Nina Gregg- Blount County
  33. Dustin Park- Blount County
  34. Lo Starck- Blount County
  35. Marjorie Stewart- Blount County
  36. Dan Lawson- Bradley County
  37. Wm Tom Chadwell-Campbell County
  38. Elena Roser- Cheatham County
  39. Martha Wettemann – Cheatham County
  40. Alesandra Bellos- Davidson County
  41. Caryn Clopton- Davidson County
  42. Pam DeMatteo-Linn- Davidson County
  43. Romy Frank-Davidson County
  44. Amy Frogge- Davidson County
  45. Lucy Kells- Davidson County
  46. Karen McIntyre for Davidson County
  47. Cara Meissner- Davidson County
  48. Jill Speering- Davidson County
  49. Mary Holden- Davidson County
  50. Dr. Sarah Parker- Davidson County
  51. Nancy Stetten- Davidson County
  52. Jack Willey- Davidson County
  53. Pattye Post- Dickson County
  54. Larry Proffit- Dickson County
  55. Jerry Anderson- Greene County
  56. Alison Anderson- Hamilton County
  57. Alysia Comerford- Hamilton County
  58. Allie Beukema- Hamilton County
  59. James Hill- Hamilton County
  60. Amy Packer- Hamilton County
  61. Nathan Packer- Hamilton County
  62. Jane Boyd – Hawkins County
  63. Juanita Mitchell – Hawkins County
  64. Candace Bannister- Knox County
  65. Travis Donoho- Knox County
  66. Dave Gorman- Knox County
  67. Bob Kronick- Knox County
  68. Caroline Mann- Knox County
  69. Lance McCold- Knox County
  70. Jennifer Owen- Knox County
  71. Jane Skinner- Knox County
  72. Jennifer VanTol- Knox County
  73. Douglas E. Veum- Knox County
  74. Olivia Cook- McMinn County
  75. Austin Sauerbrei- McMinn County
  76. Dr. Patricia Waters- McMinn County
  77. Rosa Ponce- Montgomery County
  78. Martha Deadrick- Roane County
  79. Patricia Aramayo- Roane County
  80. Dorothy Jones- Roane County
  81. Darlene Johnson- Roane County
  82. Steven Rogers- Scott County
  83. Jerri Green- Shelby County
  84. Peg Watkins- Shelby County
  85. Carlista Barttels- Sullivan County
  86. Amy Collette- Sullivan County
  87. Charlotte Hoover- Sullivan County
  88. Susan Lodal- Sullivan County
  89. Angelo Pellitteri- Sullivan County
  90. Marsha Pellitteri- Sullivan County
  91. Candace Sass- Sullivan County
  92. Jennifer Schmitz- Sullivan County
  93. Chae Wells- Sullivan County
  94. Roberta Senzer- Sumner County
  95. Vanessa Sheehan- Sumner County
  96. A.H. Trask- Washington County
  97. Mary H. Stewart- Washington County
  98. Ellen Finney- Williamson County
  99. Kent Fourman- Williamson County
  100. Tammy Lipsey- Williamson County

One thought on “Third Grade Retention Law Harms Kids”
  1. Decisions are not being based on achievements under poor conditions third graders have endured. As first graders, schools were closed completely in the middle of March. As second graders, they went to school for awhile, they did the virtual with chromebooks and zoom meetings which had little to no effect on retention of material, and then would go a week or two with no schooling because the closure of schools did not allow time for Chrome books to be sent home! Now, basically they had a snowball chance in hell, they are expected to achieve a mastery level of “approaching expectations” in order to be promoted to 4th grade. I don’t think so. Teachers, administrators, parents, and grandparents are the individuals to make that decision. Not a percentage score on a test that lacks approximately 6 months of in school learning!

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