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Committee advances bill to enhance third-grade literacy

Legislation aimed at further improving third-grade literacy in Tennessee advanced out of the House K-12 Subcommittee last week.

House Bill 437, as amended, includes several enhancements to bipartisan legislation passed in 2021 to address learning loss related to COVID-19 and provide students with additional academic support before being promoted to the fourth grade if they are approaching reading on-level.

“There has been a lot of discussion about education in Tennessee over the last few years, especially about the reading issues that our children are facing,” said bill co-sponsor State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “The thing that we have to be very careful of is continuing on this pathway of moving kids forward that aren’t ready. We’re not really doing them a service. We’re actually doing them an injustice.”

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If approved, the bill would expand fourth-grade eligibility by allowing students who score in the “approaching” category on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test to still be promoted to the next grade level if they also scored in the 50th percentile or higher on their most recent benchmark assessment provided by the state and given as a test.

Parents would also be able to receive additional assistance from school administrators when filing a waiver to appeal their child’s retention. The legislation also requires a tutor to be assigned for one year to all students in kindergarten through third grade who are retained beginning with the 2023-24 school year.

State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 437, told members of the committee on Tuesday that Tennessee must also continue to focus on early childhood literacy beginning in pre-kindergarten. 

“We’re not through with this,” White said. “We are going to keep working, but I think we have addressed some of the major concerns that (exist with the current law). We can’t take our foot off the accelerator. We know it’s difficult… but we can get this right and we have a good opportunity to do so.” House Bill 437 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 22.

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