Growth Confusion in Tennessee’s 4th Grade Retention Formula

4 min read

In a surprising turn of events, parents in Tennessee are grappling with the aftermath of the third-grade retention law, which has left them bewildered and concerned about the academic fate of their children. Haley Eason, one such parent, received an email in December that shed light on the repercussions of the law, catching her off guard.

Eason, like thousands of other parents, had enrolled her daughter in tutoring after falling short on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program). However, what she wasn’t aware of was the implementation of a new formula by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) to determine “adequate growth” in fourth grade.

Expressing her frustration, Eason remarked, “Just to say, ‘Fall into this formula or you fail,’ that’s just not fair to these children.”

The “adequate growth” component of the law has been in place since its inception, but the recent confusion stems from the introduction of a new definition for “adequate growth.” TDOE now employs a formula that combines a student’s TCAP score with a computer algorithm, producing a probability of passing the following year’s TCAP in fourth grade.

This probability is then subtracted from 50%, representing the passing threshold for the TCAP, and divided by eight, accounting for the eight years a student takes the TCAP—from third to 10th grade. This complex calculation sets a benchmark for each individual student, and as per the current law, a fourth-grader must be held back if they fail to meet this benchmark.

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The intricacies of this formula have left not only Haley Eason but thousands of Tennessee parents puzzled and frustrated.

Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), who chairs the House Education Instruction Subcommittee, shed light on the legislative intent. The law, effective since 2021, was communicated to parents two years ago, indicating that some form of formula would be implemented to gauge a student’s progress. However, Cepicky highlighted a communication breakdown between local education agencies (LEAs), primarily local school districts, and parents.

“We told them two years ago that if you bypass this, the consequences are that you have to show adequate growth in fourth grade, so we know, as a system, that your student’s going to be able to perform in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and on,” Cepicky explained. “So, they’re able to learn what we’re supposed to be able to teach them.”

While the law’s intention was clear, the lack of effective communication has left parents in the dark about the specifics of the formula and its potential impact on their children’s academic progression.

As confusion mounts, it becomes evident that some districts have not adequately conveyed this information to parents when they made the critical choice in third grade. The result is widespread uncertainty and frustration among parents, who are now seeking clarity on how the formula will influence their children’s educational journey.

Efforts are underway to bridge this communication gap, with education authorities recognizing the need for transparent and accessible information. Parents, educators, and legislators are coming together to ensure that everyone involved understands the implications of the law and the formula determining adequate growth.

In the midst of this educational upheaval, one thing remains clear: a collaborative effort is required to streamline communication channels and provide parents with the information they need to support their children through these academic challenges. As Tennessee navigates the complexities of the third-grade retention law, it is essential for all stakeholders to work together in the best interest of the students and their educational success.

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