NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Daniel Gragg’s son Ryland has all A’s and B’s in third grade in Wilson County, though Gragg says it never comes easy.
“My son works very hard,” he said. “He’s not gifted, he’s just like his father, unfortunately, so he works hard for everything he has. Even his education.”
Gragg received the news Friday that thousands across Tennessee are sharing – their kids will be facing summer school or tutoring because they did not score high enough on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test.
“To have come back and gotten back to the routine and have worked as hard as he had to get on the honor roll and earn the grades and do the work, to hear that he’s ‘failed’ is really hard on him,” Gragg said. “Very emotionally challenging.”
Democrats have railed against this new system. Though when the legislature voted on it, nearly all of them approved it, except for two – Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) and Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville).
“As elected officials, you have to be grown-ups,” Clemmons said. “Part of being a grown-up is admitting when you’re wrong.”
Clemmons, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, slammed the law, saying it’s all a march toward privatization of public schools.
“This governor, this commissioner are agents of chaos,” he said. “They have done nothing but destroy confidence in our public education system.”
Republicans pushed back on that notion.
“Well, that’s really unfortunate and that’s really sad that they would bring that up,” Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) said. “We put $1 billion new dollars into public education next year.”
With all the opinions, the question now becomes, ‘What’s next?’ White, the House Education Committee Chairman said it could be a look at retention earlier in school – though he wanted to make it clear he thinks it should be called ‘third-grade intervention.’
“My focus come next session is going to be that I want to look seriously at kindergarten, first, second grade,” White said. “What are we possibly not doing in [kindergarten], one and two that now we’re waiting to the third grade and we’re talking about holding a child back.”
Several parents have detailed frustration and anxiety their children have been suffering from as a result of this test.
White said he understood, but at some level, there has to be a line.
“Yeah, I had several phone calls even this morning about that, and we understand that. As parents, we need to talk to your children. Is reading important?” White said. “Is reading literacy important or not? We really have to own that.”
Parents like Gragg pushed back, arguing one test doesn’t define their child, and they know how to read. “I don’t know why we use that single portion of that single test to size up our kids.”
This third-grade class was in kindergarten when COVID-19 altered the educational landscape, which is what led legislators to pass this law in the first place.
But while parents say the intent was good, the outcome is not.
“We have to make sure that this tool we use is used in the right way,” Gragg said. “Not as a frying pan to hit the kids over the head with but rather as a means to figure out the problem, figure out the root cause and fix the problem, the real issue of why our kids are behind or not performing.”