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3rd grade retention law leaves students with IEP's in 'gray area', says coalition, parents

Frustrated boy staring at test. Slonov via Getty Images.
Frustrated boy staring at test. Slonov via Getty Images.
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Third-grade students across the state now know if they will progress to 4th grade, be held back, or attend summer classes.

This is based on their T-CAP scores and the current 3rd grade retention law.

But one disability advocate group says there are concerns for students with Individualized Education Plans because of 'gray area' in that law that leaves the decision to retain a third-grade student ‘up for debate.’

"Parents of kids with and without disabilities. They don't understand why this is going on," says Jeff Strand, Coordinator of Government and External Affairs with the Tennessee Disability Coalition. "It's a big hammer, that really kind of defies the purpose, and structure of special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The law states that retention decisions affecting a student receiving special education services shall be made in consultation with the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team and in accordance with the provisions of the IEP.
" It's not an IEP team decision as written in the law. It's just a consultation. So in theory, they could say, 'IEP team, what do you think the IEP team could say?' We think the child should go to fourth grade, and whomever is making the retention decisions, could disregard that and say, 'No, we're going to keep them in third grade,'" says Strand.

Hamilton County Schools says a student would be exempt if they have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that includes reading in their services, present level or performance, or adverse impact statements.

But, they say if a student does not have these 3 things in their IEP, the IEP team would need to meet to determine if the child’s disability impacted their ability to read.

That team would include a school administrator, teachers, at least one parent/guardian of the child, and other advocates or school staff depending on the child’s needs.

I'm not sure who is going to constitute this higher up authority, what expertise they'll have, but I can tell you, it won't be the same expertise as an IEP team," says Strand.

Roddey Coe’s son Ethan has autism and has an IEP.

"My son has difficulties with reading, retention, and reading comprehension," says Coe. "If he was to perceive an action as disciplinary because it wasn't adequate, I could see that being a hindrance to his future progress."

Coe says the impact of the retention law on students with IEPs isn't helping them move ahead.

"I didn't have an IEP, but I have difficulties with retention and comprehension. And so now we're asking third graders to be able to get through this, even those without the IEP may have difficulties, they may have not learned some of those skills," says Coe.

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HCS says that if the IEP team could not agree or meet to discuss, then schools will submit student files to a district-level committee to make the determination.

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