Retention Decision Looms for Some Students

May 13, 2024 at 11:32 am by JC Bowman


The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) is a standardized test measuring students' English language arts proficiency. Under a state reading and retention law, third graders who score "below" or "approaching" proficiency on the English language arts section of the TCAP may face retention if additional steps are not taken. Fourth graders who fell short on last year's test but opted into tutoring must pass the section of the test or hit an individualized growth goal to avoid retention.

TCAP scores are typically released in two waves yearly over the summer and early fall. However, the Tennessee Department of Education will release some scores and data early for third and fourth-graders affected by the reading law. English language arts scores for third graders will be released to districts on May 20, and adequate growth data for fourth graders will be released by July 1. It will be up to the districts to relay this information and the following steps to parents and legal guardians.

Last year, 60% of third graders fell short of the state's reading benchmark, but after exemptions, retakes, summer school, and the appeal process, only 1.2% of third graders were held back under the reading law. This low percentage shows that the system is designed to support and help students succeed. The number of third graders retained this year will likely take several months to determine. As for fourth graders, more than 12,000 of last year's third graders who fell short opted for yearlong tutoring in fourth grade to avoid retention. Fourth graders must now show adequate growth, face retention, or additional tutoring.

There are exemptions for third graders who fall short on the TCAP. English language learners with less than two years of English language arts instruction, students held back in a previous grade, and students with disabilities or suspected disabilities that impact their literacy development can move on to fourth grade without further action.

For third graders who score as 'approaching' proficiency, there are several supportive options to help them move on to fourth grade. These include retesting and scoring on grade level, enrolling in summer school, and showing adequate growth, or having a free state-provided tutor for the entire fourth grade. Similarly, third graders who score as 'below proficiency' also have supportive options to move on, such as retesting and scoring as 'meets' or 'exceeds' expectations, enrolling in summer school with a 90% attendance rate, or having a free state-provided tutor for the entirety of fourth grade.

Parents can file an appeal for third graders who score as approaching expectations. Still, appeals are only open under certain circumstances, such as if the child faced a catastrophic event before the TCAP or scored in the 40th percentile or higher on a state-approved reading screener. Additional steps are required for those who appeal using the reading screener option, including the development of an academic remediation plan, agreement from the school's principal and English language arts teacher to promote the child to fourth grade, and high-dosage, low-ratio tutoring for the entirety of fourth grade.

Final third-grade retention decisions will be made in June and July for students who do not participate in summer programming. The state does not list a retention decision deadline for fourth graders affected by the reading law. Critical dates for TCAP scores, appeals, and retention decisions can vary, so parents and legal guardians must stay informed and consult with their districts for specific information. This knowledge empowers you to make the best decisions for your child's education.

Tennessee's reading and retention law has been amended to allow students to meet with their principal, teacher, and parents to determine if they are ready to advance to the fifth grade. The bill was passed by both elected bodies, but as of May 13, 2024, it remains unsigned by Governor Lee. For more information, visit the Tennessee Department of Education's website.


JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Sections: Education