Tennessee lawmakers sent a bill dropping state testing requirements while also waiving a law requiring 180 days of annual classroom instruction to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk last Thursday afternoon.
Both the Tennessee House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2818, providing relief for students, teachers and schools amid mass school closures in response to the coronavirus crisis this spring.
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.
House lawmakers passed House Bill 2818 during the morning session Thursday after both House and Senate bills easily passed through committees Wednesday.
“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 on Wednesday.
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.
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.
Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, acknowledged that some students might not return to school before the end of this academic year.
“There is a substantial likelihood that some kids won’t make it back for the remainder of the school year, it could be the fall before some kids make it back to school,” he said. “In general, [this legislation] wipes the slate clean for all our teachers, our students [and] our schools for the reminder of the school year.”
If school districts do test students, any data gathered will be excluded by Tennessee Value-Added Assessment growth scores that are used to evaluate students and teachers.
The bill also directs the Tennessee State Board of Education to revise high school graduation requirements for the 2019-2020 school year to ensure high school seniors who were affected by closures still graduate on time. It also cancels any other required state tests for graduation.
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, said the bill is one that “helps our teachers, a bill that helps our students, a bill that brings together Republicans and Democrats.”
The bill also excludes the portfolio requirement for evaluation of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers, something that Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said she had heard was a concern from “hundreds of kindergarten teachers.”
Contributing: Andy Sher, Chattanooga Times Free Press