Texas lawmakers consider giving authority to parents to have students repeat a grade due to pandemic

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill being discussed in the Texas House Committee on Public Education would give parents the sole authority to have their children repeat a grade, superseding the power schools and principals normally have when deciding the best course of action for a student.

House Bill 3557 is a direct reflection of the learning loss experienced during the pandemic and would expire on Sept. 1, 2022.

Rep. Ken King points to the assessements delivered through the Texas Edcuation Agency earlier this year, which show a nearly six month learning loss. Researchers found students experienced around three months of instructional loss at the onset of the pandemic. That’s combined with the standard 2.5 month summer slide students normally face.

And those effects of a year of virtual learning is currently being felt in Central Texas.

Austin Independent School District officials report that for the fourth six weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, 40% of its high school students are failing one or more classes. That’s a 6% increase from the year before.

AISD also reports more than 32% of middle schoolers are also failing one or more courses, an increase of nearly 11% from the year before.

Austin Independent School District failure fates for the 4th six weeks of the 2020/2021 school year.

In Round Rock ISD, the numbers are slightly better. District officials report that after the first semester of the 2020/2021 school year, nearly 22% of all secondary students were failing at least one class, an increase of about 11%.

RRISD failur rates for the first semester of the 2020/2021 school year.

Some parents are recognizing the academic and emotional toll the pandemic has had on their kids and would like to see their children held back a year.

Amy Ashford, for example, is concerned her 5th grader isn’t ready for the big transition to middle school. Her daughter has done well academically this year, but she wants to give her an extra year to adapt to in-person learning.

“So that when she does have that transition to middle school, it’s not overwhelming. Not just going to middle school, but overwhelming just being back in the classroom again,” Ashford said.

HB 3557, however, is targeted specifically for students who are failing to meet academic requirements. Per the bill’s current language, a parent can make a written request to a school to retain their child in their current grade.

If a school district disagrees, they must convene “a retention committee,” made up of the principal, parents, the teacher or multiple teachers to discuss the merits and concerns of retaining the student.

After the retention committee meets and the parent decides to retain or retake the grade or course, “the school district or open-enrollment school must abide by the decision of the parent or guardian.”

However, school officials say holding a kid back can lead to higher drop out rates and personal insecurities. Studies have shown that a student is 50% more likely to drop out if they have been asked to repeat a grade. That number jumps to 90% if they are asked to repeat a grade twice.

Rachelle Finck, the Round Rock ISD Coordinator of Social and Emotional Learning, said repeating a grade can lead a student to lose confidence in themselves. She said it often sparks internal dialogues which can harm a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

“Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Or even the idea, ‘well, I didn’t get it last year, so I am going to give up,” Finck said.

Instead, Finck said the district is currently adapting the curriculum and preparing faculty to welcome back students who may not be as academically or emotionally advanced as years past. She said it is their proactive approach to create a welcoming environment for all that will lead to student success.

“We know that there has been some academic learning loss. We know that there have been some social implications. As a school environment, we are constantly addressing that very need,” Finck said. “I am being really intentional and really mapping it out: what does that professional development look like? What kinds of things do we need to have in all of our classrooms?”

Finck concluded that it’s best to strike a balance, and that sometimes, a parent will often know what is best for their kid. She suggested both districts and parents work with each other and treat each child’s progress in school on a case-by-case basis.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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