📝 Fooling With The Ruling 📝 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team Blog Surrounding Policies
When you think back to your childhood years, do you remember these youthful times to be fraught with worry and anxiety for your future? Were you scared of the oncoming, high-set standards...
imposed upon you? Unfortunately, this could be a commonly occurring issue for elementary students across the country and especially in Tennessee. Literacy rates have always been a concern in our state, garnering outcry for special support and assistance to be provided as only 34.9 % of students read on grade level. These low statistics have come to be regarded as a crisis-level threat, especially for marginalized students who are affected the most. Furthermore, the Coronavirus pandemic has created even greater worry regarding less impactful education and teachers’ inability to connect with students fully. In response, Governor Bill Lee and other officials have been tasked with raising Tennessee’s literary rates and comprehension. Our legislators set several programs and initiatives in place to set back the drawbacks of learning loss and improving reading comprehension. A new phonics-based reading program hopes to optimize training while providing more resources for teachers and parents alike. This methodology is often used with younger children to help with spelling and comprehension as students apply phonetics to literature to pronounce and read the content. However, not all measures to combat low literacy rates have been as productive or positive. In January of 2021, the Tennessee Legislature approved a slate of bills that included a proposal to hold back third-graders who did not meet the level of proficiency for their class. Around 64% of third-grade students in Tennessee cannot read at the set standard, leading lawmakers to propose this drastic change to the education system. To improve the results of the lowest scorers, the House wants to be able to hold these students back for one year and make them repeat the curriculum. However, I doubt such measures will yield beneficial change or improvements. Students were isolated from their peers throughout the pandemic, especially those online, depriving them of essential social and learning experiences. Making students repeat a grade could further push them away from those meaningful connections as they are disjunct from their peers and forced into a class younger than them. Through such means, repeat students may feel stressed or discouraged to retake the same courses, especially as the older and bigger kids in the room. This overwhelming pressure significantly raises a student’s likelihood of dropping out of high school or developing emotional or mental health issues.
Furthermore, research conducted from the past thirty years indicates that forcing students to repeat a grade does not improve their academic performance. Instead, those held back in 1st or 2nd grade scored worse on standardized tests in middle school than those who completed grades consecutively. Students who are held back often learn the same material in the same manner and therefore have the same unsuccessful results as before. Holding children back, especially third graders, will not help increase their academic performance and will worsen their school careers in several aspects. This is not the answer to the issue plaguing our state, or at least not the one that will bring positive change. In response, several superintendents have pushed back against the ludicrous legislature in hopes of helping their students. In an interview with Blount County’s The Daily Times, Maryville City Schools Director Mike Winstead condemned the practice, saying that “It’s about keeping the kids in third grade so that they don’t take the fourth grade NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) test so that your NAEP scores look better and you have a ‘Mississippi miracle’.” I believe that there is truth to this statement and that the education board’s goals are not entirely in the best interest of students but rather the appearance of our state and academic performance. Facades cannot be put in place for real progress as they will only inhibit students’ ability to improve and create false standards.
However, allowing students to move to the next level while not meeting the proficiency requirement is detrimental to their school careers and performance. While holding them back is not the right answer, additional intervention and support are needed to ensure their success. Some of the new initiatives, like the phonics-based reading program, will help students improve and keep up with the curriculum. I think the supplemental strategies listed by WGU, “like tutoring, pull-out programs, push-in programs, small reading groups, peer reading practice, and programs like Reading Recovery,” are some examples of beneficial intervention.
Reading issues are often best mediated when caught and dealt with early on in students’ elementary years. Repeating grades and materials will not help with proficiency; instead, they can lead to lower academic performance and social/mental/emotional issues. Going forward, the state should focus on those struggling early on or enact several of the supplemental strategies in supporting students who continue to meet said reading standards. We cannot allow students to be left behind and forgotten, something that this piece of legislation would ensure.Instead, we must rise up to meet their needs to not only improve Tennessee’s literacy rate but students’ experiences as well.