NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Tennessee governor is saying educators across the state need to be able to teach our students the best they can this year to close the wide learning gap our students are facing.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn are calling for removing negative consequences for schools and educators associated with student assessments for the 2020-2021 school year.

With testing starting in the state, Lee and Schwinn said teachers will not be evaluated based on those scores.

"We can't fill in the gaps with read math or learning loss without understanding where they are," Lee said.

"Our focus has got to be about teaching and learning. and allowing folks to focus on this critical work for as many instructional days as possible," Schwinn said. 

Though only a small proportion of schools in the state have had to close because of the virus since reopening, state leaders are breaking the tie between teacher accountability and performance and how well our students do on state testing.

"At this time, it's most important that our teachers have a clear run way," Lee said. "Testing and the accountability structure that we have in place will have to look different."

The state senate and house will get involved just to craft specifics about what a teacher can be evaluated on this year.

Students must take the state testing still, especially so Tennessee can get federal funding.

Lee and Schwinn released the following statement: 

"Given the unprecedented disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic and extended time away from the classroom has had on Tennessee’s students, my Administration will work with the General Assembly to bring forward a solution for this school year that alleviates any burdens associated with educator evaluations and school accountability metrics,” said Lee in a news release. “Accountability remains incredibly important for the education of Tennessee’s students, and we will keep this year’s assessments in place to ensure an accurate picture of where our students are and what supports are needed to regain learning loss and get them back on the path to success.”

"Due to COVID-19, Tennessee districts and schools experienced extended periods away from the classroom and missed critical instruction time during the spring. The department supports Governor Lee's call for holding teachers and schools harmless from negative consequences associated with accountability measures this school year," said Schwinn in a news release. "Administering assessments to gauge student learning and ensuring strong accountability best enables us to meet the needs of all students, however we know the significant challenges our teachers and school and district leaders are facing and it remains critical to reward their good work. We look forward to working together with our elected officials on a solution for this school year that preserves our strong foundations while ensuring that every teacher feels supported in focusing on educating their students.”

The Tennessee Education Association is calling for the governor to suspend teacher evaluations and state standardized tests during the pandemic.

“The governor’s statement is a good first step on how to support educators who are already doing everything they can during a pandemic,” said TEA President Beth Brown in a news release. “There are additional important steps the administration can take quickly to further reduce the burden on teachers and administrators.”

TEA calls for extending hold-harmless to include suspension of other areas of the evaluation system that take up enormous time and are not aligned to teaching in a pandemic, such as observations and portfolios for non-tested grades.

“It’s not just standardized testing. Our evaluation system is simply not designed to assess teaching during a pandemic,” Brown said. “Many educators are teaching both virtually and in person. We constantly adjust to disruptions caused by infections or quarantines. We teach while doing everything we can to minimize transmission and take time to attend to the emotional needs of students dealing with the pandemic. None of these issues are even remotely included in models the state requires schools use to evaluate teachers.”

TEA understands assessing students is important and is being done on a continual basis by educators.

“We don’t need to have state standardized tests to know where students are academically,” Brown said. “We have ongoing state-approved benchmark assessments in addition to the tests and exams teachers administer themselves throughout the school year. If you want to know where students are academically, just look at our gradebooks.”

Professional Educators of Tennessee issued a statement after the announcement:

“We are very pleased to see Governor Lee’s position that alleviates any burdens associated with educator evaluations and school accountability in 2020-2021. In regard to testing, we are unsure of the value they bring to this academic year.  Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing is a dollar taken away from the classroom. This year it may be better for schools to focus on remediation, growth, and the safety of students. However, we are extremely grateful to the Governor for taking this position.” - JC Bowman, Professional Educators of Tennessee


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