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Tennessee legislature drops student testing requirements amid coronavirus crisis

By Jill Penley
Freelance Reporter 

As all Tennessee schools remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, state lawmakers passed legislation to waive this year’s annual state testing requirements as well as the law requiring 180 days of annual classroom instruction. Both the Tennessee House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2818 and companion Senate Bill 2672, providing relief for students, teachers and schools amid mass school closures in response to the crisis.

“We are very appreciative that lawmakers have voted to stop the state testing requirements this spring and have waived the required 180 days of classroom instruction,” Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Johnson County Director of Schools. “This allowed the TN Department of Education to apply for a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education in regards to testing. Hopefully, the US Department of Education will accept the waiver to stop the testing requirements.”

With Gov. Bill Lee behind the bill, lawmakers’ approval means that Tennessee has dropped state testing requirements this spring, ensured that school districts still will receive full state funding for the school year and that high school seniors already on track to graduate on time will still do so, even if their classes don’t resume.

“These are challenging times for all of us,” said Dr. Penny Schwinn, TN Commissioner of Education, in a recent press release. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with the Governor’s Office and legislative leaders to craft this amendment so that no student, educator, or school will be adversely affected due to the loss of instructional time caused by tornadoes and the coronavirus pandemic.”

The bill drops requirements for school districts to administer tests to students in grades 3-8 as well as the end-of-course exams required for some high school courses. “The priority must be to enact response measures to protect the health and safety of all Tennesseans,” said Schwinn. “The Department is continuing to work with district leaders as they support their students, teachers, and staff during these closures. Thank you to the General Assembly for quickly addressing this issue and providing clarity to our educators and families.”

Individual school districts can still choose to test if schools are back in session, but with many districts already slated to remain closed until at least mid-April, some lawmakers were doubtful that would even be a possibility. Assessment and accountability is an integral part of the Tennessee education system that enables us to learn where students are excelling and how to meet the needs of all students best. 

To waive any requirements related to assessment and accountability, a federal waiver is required, and the Tennessee legislature must make changes to existing state law. Passage of this amendment makes the necessary changes for the 2019-2020, school year only.