More than half of Memphis sophomores could be retained

More than half of all second graders attending Memphis-Shelby County schools completed the recent school year at risk of being held back and not promoted to third grade under a new policy to increase students’ literacy skills.

Of the district’s 8,153 sophomores, 4,545 students, or 56 percent, are not reading at the district’s required grade level, the MSCS said in a news release late Friday afternoon.

Most of these 4,545 MSCS students are attending classes this summer, representing about a third of the 12,000 students enrolled. As long as second graders attend 90% of the camp, they can probably go to third grade next year. Whether students will need to participate in additional interventions will depend on their final grade in reading.

After:The MSCS could force hundreds of sophomores into summer school. here’s why

Called the third-grade pledge, the district approved the policy in 2019 and lowered some of the requirements this school year, according to a review of documents.

Last year’s second graders were the first class of students to be affected. The district’s sophomore policy reflects a statewide reading intervention and retention policy for all Tennessee sophomores, which will go into effect next year.

At least 481 sophomores could be retained

The MSCS said Friday it was unable to enroll 481 sophomores who did not meet policy requirements in summer school, which began June 13 and ends July 15.

“We want, no we need, the help of the community to get these recent sophomores to class Monday morning,” MSCS Superintendent Joris Ray said in the press release issued Friday evening.

MSCS was unable to offer an explanation in time for the publication of this story on how students, if they entered the summer schedule two weeks late, could achieve attendance. by 90%. The district says it intends to provide answers Monday.

“Our headteachers have repeatedly reached out – through phone calls, emails, teacher notes and text messages – to families of students who we know need additional interventions,” Jaron Carson, director of studies, said in a statement.

“We are committed to ensuring that all students can read before entering third grade,” Carson continued, “which is why we have offered before, during and after school tutoring this school year and are offering now additional interventions through our Summer Learning Academy.”

After:Tennessee students’ reading scores are ‘largely back to pre-pandemic levels,’ state data shows

The new statistics provide one of the first looks at how the district’s own policy and an incoming state law affecting third-graders headed to fourth-grade could impact students and their districts, which should offer more tutoring or summer learning resources to students and manage staffing for any wave of successful students.

Newly released statewide test results show grade-level student numbers have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but that still leaves 65% of students not at grade-level, and student scores grade three show that the share of students furthest behind in reading is higher than in 2019, before the pandemic.

District lowered third-grade policy requirements

reflect a statewide third-grade retention law Scheduled to take effect this upcoming school year, the district policy requires second-graders to score 8 points on a 12-point scale designed to assess literacy milestones.

By creating its own policy for second-year students, the district mirrored much of the state’s third-grader policy, which also provides students with tutoring and testing options as alternatives to retention. Students who have already returned are exempt from retention in the third year.

Emily Wakabi with her student Peytan Tate during an in-person learning session at Libertas School in Memphis on Thursday, March 18, 2021.

For the MSCS policy for sophomores, report card grades and quarterly assessments earn students points on the criteria. Any student who passes the state’s TCAP test for reading at the end of the year will advance to third grade, regardless of their score on other criteria.

Part of the criteria is the median Lexile scores, where higher numbers are associated with better literacy. The district lowered the requirements at some point this school year.

A document available at the beginning of March, and always available onlineshowed Lexile scores 60-65 points above requirements listed at the end of the school year. This changed the highest required Lexile score from 485 to 425. A student reaching this score at the end of the school year would earn three of the required eight points, instead of just one.

The district said Saturday it would not be able to respond to a request for information about the change until Monday.

Students who do not score at least eight points are not automatically retained. Instead, there are two tracks: one for students with final grades in reading of 70% or higher and the other for students with final grades below 70%.

Ciara Slade-Trejo, second-grade teacher at Hickory Ridge Elementary, talks about her virtual lesson plan from her classroom on Friday, August 28, 2020.

In either case, as long as students take the required number of summer courses, they will advance to third year. Depending on the number of tests showing they have learned during summer school, they may need tutoring in the third year.

Second-year students will only be accepted if they do not achieve eight points on the criteria and do not make it to the summer school.

The district has implemented a policy to improve reading rates and student achievement

The policy aims to improve the reading performance of some of the district’s youngest students, during the years when researchers say learning to read is most important. In explaining the impacts of the policy, district and school leaders described a cycle they say starts with low literacy and can end up missing high school graduation, incarceration and poverty.

In recent years before the pandemic, about a quarter of third-grade students in the district were reading at the grade level. That figure fell to 14% last year, with even fewer of the district’s economically disadvantaged and English-learning students reading on track, far from a target of 90% in 2025. The neighborhood has revised the target to 74% of students read on the right track before going to college by 2030.

Tamyia Allen, 7, works on an art project detailing the four seasons with her fellow first graders during Treadwell Elementary School's Summer Academy on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Schools invited families of second-graders to virtual and in-person meetings in January and shared with families how their child is doing so far. Targeted, one-to-one communication was key to getting the most out of the policy and getting students up to speed, board member Stephanie Love told the district in February.

“I don’t have the data, but I’m willing to bet a lot of students who aren’t in grade level are also students who have chronic truancy issues or truancy issues. And we have struggling to reach those parents,” Love said. “So how are we going to reach the parents that we haven’t been able to reach to even get their kids to school, to get them involved in a way that will be beneficial?”

Former board member Shante Avant and current board chair Michelle McKissack also urged the district at the time to be as proactive as possible in talking with families about what might be required of their second year students.

Laura Testino covers education and childhood issues for the trade appeal. Contact her at or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino

Comments are closed.