Nashville Schools: Leaders express frustration over Tennessee reading law

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School leaders in Nashville expressed frustration and confusion this week about the widespread effects of Tennessee’s reading law that could hold back hundreds of fourth graders this year.

During Tuesday night’s Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education meeting, there was discussion of the state’s controversial third-grade reading law. The law went into effect last year and ultimately disabled a small portion of third-graders — 64 across MNPS and 898 statewide.

But students who chose to teach a year in fourth grade to avoid retention now face another test that could hold them back from fifth grade. They must show appropriate growth, determined by a state Department of Education formula that includes standardized test scores and the likelihood of becoming proficient in reading by 10th grade.

MNPS Superintendent Adrienne Battle reviews her notes during the July 25 school board meeting.

MNPS Superintendent Adrienne Battle reviews her notes during the July 25 school board meeting.

Based on state Department of Education projections, between 400 and 700 fourth-graders could be removed from MNPS this year. But beyond saying that these students should be retained if they are not thriving, the law does not include any other information, including a timeline for what to expect.

Metro Schools Superintendent Adrian Battle has repeatedly stressed that the specific requirements for third- and fourth-graders are state law, not something imposed by the district. Patel and other school leaders have been among the law’s leading critics since its inception.

“This law was not well thought out or implemented,” Patel told board members.

‘Worst case scenario’: Up to 700 fourth-graders in Nashville may be detained under TN’s reading law

Support and development appropriate for fourth grade students

Chief Academic Officer, Mason Bellamy, collaborated with Tina Stinson, who oversees MNPS’ Research, Assessment and Evaluation division, to provide the Council with the latest updates on the Reading Act.

The formula for adequate growth is individualized for each student, Stinson said. Things remain uncertain until students take the Tennessee Standardized Comprehensive Assessment Program test in April, she said.

“Those students who score the lowest need to make the most growth in order to be promoted,” she said. “It can be one or two questions for some students, and it can be much more for others.”

The MNPS Board of Education holds a meeting on July 25.

The MNPS Board of Education holds a meeting on July 25.

Bellamy said the spring and summer months will likely create a time crunch as spring TCAPs come in, results come out and decisions are made about retaining fourth-graders, along with the current class of third-graders. Some may not know their results until the summer.

“This creates a less than ideal timeline,” Bellamy said.

Metro Schools offers a summer program known as Promising Scholars. Last year, the district kept registration open late to give parents and guardians of third-graders more time to decide whether to register. Summer school was an option for some students who failed to meet the state standard that allowed them to move on to fourth grade, if they met the requirements.

In the coming months, the district will offer multiple virtual support sessions and school meetings, along with sending letters home with affected students.

Board members criticize state reading law and grapple with details

Board member Cheryl Mayes, who represents District 6, asked whether Bellamy or Stinson knew how the demographics of fourth-graders enrolled in tutoring collapsed under state law this year. Stinson said they didn’t have exact numbers, but they gave a general idea of ​​how they fell.

“The demographics are unfair,” she said. “They break down economic lines.”

Abigail Taylor, MNPS District 9, hears the public's concerns at a school board meeting at the MNPS Administration Building in Nashville, Tennessee, Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

Abigail Taylor, MNPS District 9, hears the public’s concerns at a school board meeting at the MNPS Administration Building in Nashville, Tennessee, Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

Advocates and educators have often expressed concern that the state’s reading law would disproportionately affect students of color, along with those facing economic hardship.

Board member Abigail Taylor, who represents District 9, asked whether a student could score “nearing” proficiency on the English Language Arts section of TCAP but still be considered “at grade level” for reading.

“There’s really no such thing as ‘grade level,’” Stinson said. “What I can say for sure is that it is possible to read at a very close to average level in this state and still not be considered ‘meeting’ or ‘exceeding’ what (the state) calls ‘at grade level.’”

As a parent and board president, Rachel Ann Elrod, who represents District 2, said it’s “frankly embarrassing” that she and others don’t have clear answers about what will happen — and when — with fourth graders this year. She encouraged board members to continue asking questions and discussing what is best as things evolve.

This article originally appeared in Nashville Tennessee: Tennessee Read Law: Nashville school leaders express frustration

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