Minimized Social Promotion Bill Awaits Signature

New estimates show 45,000 Tennessee students are being promoted each year without making the grades to earn it. But a bill aimed at ending the practice was significantly downsized after lawmakers saw the cost to holding back those students – an extra $175 million a year.

Senator Charlotte Burks, a Democrat from Putnam County, introduced the legislation.

“How are we going to make these kids accountable if we’re going to say, oh it’s ok if you’re not up to power, we’re just going to let you go on anyway?”

To reduce the financial impact on state and local governments, the Department of Education suggested the new promotion rule apply only to third graders and to their reading scores in particular.

Assistant Education Commissioner Stephen Smith says the legislation, which passed nearly unanimously, also allows school districts to offer remedial work instead of holding students back.

“In these times of fiscal constraints, many times pieces of legislation have to be scaled back.”

The bill now has little – if any – additional cost to the state. It’s awaiting Governor Haslam’s signature.

A Wake Up Call

The state’s Fiscal Review Committee estimates 45,000 students are being socially promoted – more than twice the number held back each year.

Gary Nixon is executive director of the state board of education.

“I hope it’s a wake up call. That we need to make sure kids just don’t fall through the cracks.”

Nixon says as a matter of policy, school districts shouldn’t allow students to move up without showing grade-level proficiency.

But school districts are expected to promote 98 percent of their students. Keith Brewer heads the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

“One can look at that piece of data and conclude that that is an enabler as far as social promotion.”

Brewer says promotion should be left up to school districts. But he says they also build individualized education plans for students who aren’t meeting grade level requirements.

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