Hamilton County Schools adopt state’s third grade retention law as policy

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Larry Grohn, Rhonda Thurman and Gary Kuehn sit at a Hamilton County school board meeting on Oct. 20.

The state's third grade retention law is now officially part of Hamilton County Schools policy.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the measure Thursday evening.

In accordance with state law, third graders who do not score proficiently on the English language arts portion of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test will not be promoted to fourth grade unless they receive extra literacy tutoring during the summer.

And district officials estimate that will be around 30% of third grade students.

Before the vote, Cortney Fugate, an eighth grade English language arts teacher at Loftis Middle School, asked the board to pass a resolution urging the Tennessee General Assembly to amend the third grade retention law.

"This law bases promotion to fourth grade on one single standardized test," Fugate said. "I don't think that I have to explain the negative effects that this will have on teachers, students and families."

In September, Fugate started an online petition calling on legislators to change the law. It has since amassed nearly 2,500 signatures.

"Legislators should be advocating for evidence-based assessments and learning solutions for our students grounded in good data and the real-life experiences of teachers," she told board members. "We also have to keep in mind that March 2020, the month the world shut down, was during our third graders' kindergarten year. They've not had effective reading supports in place for most years up until this point, and they shouldn't be penalized for that."

Fugate said she understands the board had nothing to do with the creation of the law and does not have the power to amend it but asked the board to join nearly a dozen school districts that have already passed resolutions condemning it.

School districts in Knox, Williamson, Wilson and Sumner counties, as well as Murfreesboro City have sought chagnes to the law.

"I propose that the next county to do that should be ours," Fugate said. "Parents, teachers and students in Hamilton County need to know that our school board supports students and not the new retention law," Fugate said.

Board member Gary Kuehn, R-Ooltewah, said, from what he's seen, the law has been met with widespread criticism.

"Just to clear your conscience a little bit, at our state school board association meeting in November, there were 19 resolutions to do away with this from different organizations, from different school boards," Kuehn told Fugate. "So, it's the whole state looking to change this," Kuehn said.

"I think it's important our community knows that you guys feel that way as well," Fugate replied.

Board members did not discuss the matter further.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at cnesbitt@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.