TC Weber Provides Latest Details on Third Grade Retention Law
Live from Music Row, Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Star education reporter TC Weber in studio to further explain the details of Tennessee’s third-grade retention law.
Leahy: We’re having too much fun.
Weber: We are having a good time this bright and early morning.
Leahy: TC Weber, the man who knows everything about K12 public school education in studio.
Weber: Just ask me.
Leahy: (Laughs) Just ask him! In metro Nashville, the big story has been this third-grade retention bill. And describe, if you would, TC, what the bill that was passed into law last year does.
Weber: It was brought across as part of the special session. And people need to remember that Mark White carried this bill in regular session in 2019. It was part of a bill that he couldn’t get across the finish line, and he tried very hard. And then they had to come back to a special session where nobody wanted to offend Bill Lee at that time.
Leahy: What year?
Weber: 2020 I believe it was. And as part of that was a law called the third-grade retention law, which was already on the bills. It’s been on the bill since 2013, but the decision was left to the locals.
Leahy: Now Mark White.
Weber: The amicable. Mark White.
Leahy: The amicable Mark White.
Leahy: The amicable Mark, the Southern gentleman who’s from Memphis. He is from Memphis and has been a teacher for a long time.
Leahy: Been a guest on this program many time. Not in studio yet, I don’t think. But he’s been on the newsmaker line and we have some mutual friends, and he’s now the chairman of the Education Administration Committee. And I think he also works at Lipscomb in some capacity.
Weber: Yes. And he also sits, which a lot of people don’t know is he sits on the board for that national testing group that everybody says, tells us how bad things are going or how good things are going. He sits on that board, too.
Leahy: So tell us what this law which went into effect this cycle.
Weber: It will go into effect this cycle. And basically, if a child does not test as proficient in literacy, they’ll be retained and will repeat third grade.
Leahy: Retained means you’ve got to repeat the third grade or go to summer school.
Weber: Here’s the caveat that the Republicans, especially in the Senate, are kind of taking offense at, because the law has been misportrayed in their eyes. They have created a number of off-ramps. You can go to summer school, you can get a tutor, or your parents can appeal. There are a lot of ways that a student or their family could have their student avoid being retained.
There’s also a test. You could retake the test, which of course, by Penny Schwinn’s led TDOE, nobody knows what that test looks like or who’s going to create it, or when you would take it.
Leahy: Penny Schwinn is our Commissioner of Education. She’s been seen occasionally in the state over the past couple of years.
Weber: Let’s just say that if you live in another state, your odds are more likely of seeing Penny Schwinn than if you live in Tennessee.
Leahy: I heard her for the first time when she was interviewed at the governor’s address governor’s state of the state address by another radio host from another radio program. Very good reporter. I listened to her and I said, oh my goodness, this is boilerplate baloney rapidly delivered.
Weber: That’s a nicer word than I would use. She’s one of those people and she’s updated her resume as she gets ready to head to the Southwest to talk about all the great things happening in Tennessee. We like to talk about data points except when we’re touting the things that we’ve done and then we celebrate things that we have no data points for. (Leahy laughs)
For example, the literacy work, the high-quality materials, and the teacher pipeline. These are all things that we just put in place today or this year. And she’s touting those as success. Except when test results come out and show that they haven’t been as effective. And then she says, well, we just implemented those. We got to give them time to work.
Leahy: Yes, I mean very frustrating trying to.
Weber: But back to that third-grade retention. A lot of people are expecting changes because all of a sudden people realize that little Johnny or little Susie may not go on to fourth grade. They’re getting all upset and all worked up. In the House, they’re listening, and they’re going to give a bunch of, I think there are 13 different amendments filed from everything.
They’re giving it back to locals, which ain’t going to happen, to using alternate means, to adding means to decide who gets passed and who doesn’t. Which perhaps could happen. They’re going to listen and they’re going to craft some kind of bill. But I think the changes are not going to be what people expect.
I think they’re going to make it more expansive. In talking to Representative Scott Cepicki, he says that they went to third grade maybe too late. So we need to take a look at what we’re doing support-wise and everything else at K through three.
I think when it gets over to the Senate, and House again, I look for the right word. I don’t know if offended is the right word, but they feel those on the Education Committee and a lot of Republican state senators that the bill has been misrepresented and that there’s a lot of hyperbole around it. And they feel like they’ve crafted a thoughtful bill that needs a chance to be implemented and gone through before you start making issues.
Leahy: You and I have talked about this. I think you have said that there are some issues with the test itself.
Weber: Yes, the test itself is, and to his credit Education Committee Chair Jon Lundberg took the test.
Leahy: Yeah, I saw that.
Weber: And he has more sense of what it’s about.
Leahy: I think he concluded it was a fair test.
Weber: He thought it was a fair test. And a lot of people have gotten, I don’t know, up in arms and critical because they said, yeah, he took the test. Surely he’s going to score better than a third-grader.
Leahy: I’m reminded of the Jeff Foxworthy game, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
Weber: But we keep looking at the test as if the test is a simple yes or no answer. Like we went, you got seven out of 10. You scored a 70. That’s not how these standardized tests work. You take the test and then there are questions on there that are field test questions so they don’t count.
There are questions that are weighted a little bit more. There are questions to ask. So it goes to this equivocation. And then it’s nationally normed. So who are you going to compare the national norm with a state senator?
Leahy: My question on all this, TC, is there may be quibbles on the test. Is it measuring literacy? Is it measuring the ability to read? But the bottom line is K12 public schools across the country, in Nashville, in Tennessee, are failing to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. That’s the problem to me.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “TC Weber” by Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board.