Tennessee Star Education Reporter T.C. Weber Provides the Inside Scoop on the Third Grade Retention Bill

Feb 27, 2023

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 education reporter TC Weber in studio to discuss problems with TCAP testing and gauging the academic proficiency of students.

Leahy: In studio, TC Weber, our education reporter. So you follow all of these legislative proceedings?

Weber: I do.

Leahy: So that we don’t have to. (Weber chuckles)

Weber: It’s like the greatest show on Earth some days.

Leahy: Some days it’s like watching paint dry. And other days there’s a lot of drama. This third-grade retention bill was passed and is in effect, but now there are some proposals to modify it.

Weber: It was interesting on a brief history,  It’s been on the book since 2011, but it was left in the hands of the locals, and nobody got retained. Then in 2019, they tried to do it through a literacy bill that Mark White tried as hard as he could and could not get through legislation. And then they brought it back in a special session, and nobody really paid attention to third-grade retention until now.

And all of a sudden they’re realizing that there may be a bunch of kids retained or there may not be. Nobody really knows. But now everybody wants to talk about it, or they didn’t want to talk about it before the passage.

Leahy: Scott Cepicky, state rep. I’m looking at your story in The Tennessee Star published yesterday. He had a really interesting quote for you. “If we are waiting until third grade to intervene, we are waiting too long.’

Weber: That’s been Cepicky’s stance since the beginning of all of this. He’s got several pieces of legislation out there that will expand services to K through three. He’s argued that we should test kids before they go into first grade so that we get a sense of where they are and we’re not all spread out.

His focus has been on, how do we expand those services and get those kids, because if we’re waiting for third grade to suddenly step in like knights in armor coming to save the day, we’re too late. We’re not going to save the damsel in distress. We’ve got to do it before.

Leahy: I have to take you out to meet the folks at Thales Academy.

Weber: I know you like Thales Academy.

Leahy: But I’m going to take you out there.

Weber: I know you keep threatening.

Leahy: And we’re going to do it.

Weber: We’re going to do a field trip. (Chuckles)

Leahy: And you and I, we’ll take a Mike and TC adventure. We’ll go out to Thales Academy. And we’ll watch them use direct instruction, which is by far the most proven way, been out there for 60 years, to teach kids reading, writing, and arithmetic.

They’re way off the charts compared to anything else. I think this whole third-grade retention bit is a little bit about the system we’ve been using that doesn’t work. Let’s do more of it, and maybe that will work.

Weber: I think some of the conversations that have popped up around it have been very interesting because you start to get a sense of people that want to know what to do. I think for the first time in 10 years, I’m starting to see people openly question the value of the tests we’re taking.

One of the things that I try to approach people with, and we need to consider at some point, is, whether we are preparing kids for the future, for the world, they’re going to live in, or are we preparing them to live in the world that we live in?

And change is happening so rapidly, and technology, whether it be reading, writing, technology, or whether it be homeschooling, whether it be virtual education, there’s so much change happening so rapidly. I think that we sometimes run the danger of staking ourselves to a past that’s no longer viable.

Leahy: One of the people there who raised a concern was Jeanne Baker, she’s director of Lenoir City Schools. She made a presentation with a couple of other folks. They were concerned about the use of what they call One Data Post for remediation and the state’s timeline for implementation.

Jeanne went on to say that districts won’t receive TCAP results until after the school year ends, which would leave little time for retakes or parent appeals that could also impact family decisions about attending summer learning camps.

Now, our good friend, newly elected, one of the best attorneys in the country, by the way, Gino Bulso, Republican from Brentwood, I don’t know if you had a chance to talk to him.

Weber: I have not yet. He’s on my radar. Yes.

Leahy: Very, very sharp guy and a very good attorney. He asked Commissioner Schwinn to follow up on Baker’s concerns about that and she said she acknowledged it was a tight schedule, but concluded that it was possible.

Weber: Possible? We’ll see.

Leahy: You sound skeptical.

Weber: I’m skeptical of it all because the history of the department and the history particularly of Penny Schwinn, is not rooted in doing things in a timely fashion. I think there’s one caveat here, as she laid that out, that parents need to put this on their warning.

What they’re doing this year is they’re going to give a raw score. And for those who don’t know, a raw score is simply how many questions a kid got right. It means nothing until you take the conversion tables, which will tell you, based on field testing and other tests, how many right answers a kid needs to get to be considered on track.

So the parents will be able to do that and see if their kid is on track right around the middle of May. The dilemma there is that that’s just a predictor, and that’s a possibility. What happens is they have to run an analysis of the results and come up with the tables.

So the post equation may be different from the pre. Say Johnny got a 439, and that’s good enough, based on their predictions, to be on track. So he’s all right. After they do the post evaluation, you need a 441.

And now Johnny is no longer on track. He’s approaching, and now he needs summer school and everything else. So you have to be really careful in looking at those tables and making your own at-home conversion.

Leahy: Now this hearing was with the Education Administration Committee?

Weber: Yes. In the House. Yes.

Leahy: Mark White is a chair of that committee from Germantown.

Weber: Mark White.

Leahy: Now, what was interesting about that is there were members of the Metro National Public School Board there, but they were not invited to speak.

Weber: Now, they were not invited to speak, and they tried. And in talking to Abigail Taylor, she’s trying very hard.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith 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. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.