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UPDATE: Tennessee House lawmakers unanimously approved a bill to drop state testing requirements while also waiving a law requiring 180 days of annual classroom instruction amid mass school closures in response to the coronavirus crisis this spring. Read more.

 

Original story: 

NASHVILLE — With all Tennessee schools now closed because of the coronavirus, state lawmakers on Wednesday were racing to drop state testing requirements while also waiving a law requiring 180 days of annual classroom instruction.

House and Senate lawmakers easily passed both bills through committees and readied them for consideration by the full House and Senate in a flurry of activity before Gov. Bill Lee proposed an emergency budget to address the COVID-19 outbreak Wednesday afternoon.

"We're trying to cover all the things in this emergency measure that will put our schools, superintendents, principals, teachers and students at ease a little bit," House Education Committee Chairman Mark White, R-Memphis, told subcommittee members.

As districts announced closures in rapid fashion, White said officials "kind of found out that no one has authority other than the LEAs [individual districts] to dismiss school. The commissioner cannot. The governor cannot."

With standardized testing for grades 3-8 and end-of-course testing coming up in April, it's necessary to act, White said.

The House version, HB 2818, which easily passe the the House Curriculum, Testing and Innovation Subcommittee, waives testing and evaluation requirements for districts, schools, teachers and students. Tests can still be administered but only will count if there is a higher grade.

The bill says "the health and safety risks to Tennesseans from COVID-19 are not yet fully understood and may necessitate school closures beyond March 31, 2020; and

"WHEREAS, the General Assembly seeks to ensure that school districts, schools, teachers, and students are held harmless from testing requirements and accountability measures to provide some relief to Tennesseans during these difficult and uncertain times," it directs that Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests — including but not limited to TNReady assessments, English learner assessments, alternate TCAP assessments, and end-of-course examinations, "shall not be required in the spring of the 2019-2020 school year."

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn asked the legislature to consider postponing or canceling statewide testing on Tuesday in light of mass school closures and the devastating tornadoes that hit Middle Tennessee earlier this month. Schwinn already requested the needed waivers to suspend assessments from the U.S. Department 0f Education this week.

The legislation does not prohibit an LEA or school from voluntarily administering TCAP tests to students in the 2019-2020 school year — something state senators debated extensively Wednesday.

But student growth evaluation composites generated by assessments administered in the 2019-2020 school year "shall be excluded from the student growth measure of a teacher's evaluation unless including the composites results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher."

Teachers in non-tested grades and subjects "shall not be evaluated using an alternative growth model for the 2019-2020 school year, unless the use results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher," the bill states.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers employed in an LEA that receives pre-kindergarten program funds "shall not be evaluated using the pre-k/kindergarten growth portfolio model approved by the state board of education, or a comparable alternative measure of student growth approved by the state board of education and adopted by the LEA, for the 2019-2020 school year, unless the use results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher."

HB 2818 goes on to state that TCAP tests, including TNReady assessments, English learner assessments, alternate TCAP assessments, and end-of- course examinations, administered in the 2019-2020 school year "shall not comprise a percentage of a student's final grade for the spring semester in the subject areas of mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies, unless including TCAP test scores results in a higher final grade for the student."

Staff writer Meghan Mangrum contributed to this report.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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