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An exterior view of the Tennessee State Capitol building.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee schools would be forced to end "social promotion" of third graders under a bill that zipped past the Senate today.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, passed on a 31-0 vote.

Burks said there are about 45,000 public school students who are socially promoted, that is, allowed to enter the next grade despite not having the skills necessary.

Her bill says that, beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, a student in the third grade cannot be promoted to fourth grade unless he or she has shown a "basic understanding of curriculum and ability to perform the skills required in the subject of reading as demonstrated by the student's grades or standardized test."

Dealing with the entire problem proved to be too expensive.: A fiscal analysis showed it would cost the state an estimated $175 million a year and local governments about $92.6 million.

So Burks restricted its effect to third grade, which analysts said doesn't have a significant cost.

"If a child cannot read, they can't pass their reading proficiency by the third grade, they're just going to fall further and further behind," Burks said.

The bill is expected to come before the House on Thursday.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.

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