Tennessee Won’t Judge Teachers Or Schools On This Year’s Test Scores

Oct 16, 2020

Williamson County Schools students raise the Tennessee flag. WCS was one of the early districts asking for leniency related to standardized testing.
Credit Williamson County Schools via Facebook

There will be no negative consequences for schools and teachers related to standardized testing this school year, so long as the Tennessee General Assembly agrees. Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn are calling for the tests to be administered as usual but that the results not be used to judge the education system.

“We can’t fill in the gaps with reading or math or learning loss without understanding where they are,” Lee says. But he adds testing “will have to look different this year.”

Until now, Lee and Schwinn have resisted requests from local districts, including Williamson County Schools, asking for leniency on testing accountability or instructional requirements.

In part, that resistance had been based on the risk of losing federal funding. Then last month, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos told states that it will not grant any waivers for testing this year, but it will consider changes to accountability tied to testing.

“Certainly from a federal funding perspective, there are significant funds tied to every state’s requirement to deliver a test,” Schwinn says. “But knowing how are kids are doing is the most important thing to educators across the state.”

There is some concern that without consequences, students may be less inspired to give the same effort. But Schwinn says she expects teachers and students to do their best.

TNReady testing was suspended for the 2019-2020 school year because most of Tennessee’s public schools had suspended classroom instruction by mid-March. The General Assembly also voted in March to waive the requirement for 180 days of instruction.

The modifications to state testing will create challenges for years to come in determining when schools come off the state’s list of failing schools or deciding whether charter schools should be closed.

Most Tennessee districts have returned to in-person learning. This week, there have been 255 new coronavirus cases reported among students and 179 cases among staff, according to the state’s database. That number has dropped slightly compared to previous weeks because of fall break in many districts.

The state has not mandated that school districts require students or staff to wear masks. Lee says it’s been discussed many times, but he continues to say that those decisions are best left to local officials.