Tennessee Projects 65 Percent Learning Loss in Math, 50 Percent Loss in Third Grade Reading After COVID-19 Closures

by Vivian Jones


Reading proficiency among Tennessee third-graders is projected to drop by 50%, and math proficiency is projected to drop by 65% because of COVID-19-related school closures, according to preliminary projections released by the Department of Education.

Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced the projected learning loss during a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

“What we’re looking at is unprecedented,” Schwinn said. “What we would traditionally refer to as the summer slide is compounded by the fact that we had three additional months of school building closure, and many students are learning remotely.”

As schools across the state have been closed for six months or more – three months of summer, and an additional three months last spring – learning loss is expected to be 2.5 times the normal summer rate. Schwinn said learning loss is projected to have a similar effect on urban, suburban and rural students but hit early grade students and those in low-income communities hardest.

“We know that this is impacting our younger learners more than anyone else. It’s hard to teach a child to read, but it is really hard to teach a child to read through a computer,” Schwinn said.

Lee and Schwinn stressed the first priority to address learning loss is to get students back in the classroom.

“If students are not in buildings … they are not getting that direct instruction from a highly qualified teacher in the classroom,” Schwinn said. “We know that there is an extraordinary cost in things that we don’t measure in standardized tests, such as the way in which students interact with one another, the way in which they think about how to solve problems, the way in which they are able to ask for help and get immediate feedback on their work.”

More than 90 percent of Tennessee school districts now are offering in-person learning. Schwinn said 99.6 percent of schools offering in-person instruction have remained open.

“This shows how important it is that our kids get back into the classroom,” Lee said. “Through this report, an alarm has been sounded.”

Projections were developed from a study by the department conducted with national researchers in June of how students were projected to perform this year. That data was combined with results from more than 30,000 beginning-of-year student assessments voluntarily provided from districts across the state.

Schwinn said the department would work with school districts and the Tennessee Legislature in coming weeks to find policy solutions to address the learning loss.

The department also has received $40 million from the U.S. Department of Education in competitive grants to address COVID-19 learning loss – more than any other state in the country. The department designated $20 million to provide literacy support options to parents of vulnerable and lower performing students. Parents will be able to choose from hours of literacy support that will be available from teachers, districts, after school providers and education nonprofits.

Schwinn told The Center Square the department is working to find a vendor to disperse the funds, and she anticipates a pilot program will launch in the spring.

The other $20 million from the U.S. Department of Education will go to in-school programs for teacher-level support to address learning loss.

Lee said he plans to discuss what to do with teacher assessments next year with stakeholders, and the decision on whether to pass a “hold harmless” deal on teacher assessments will be up to the Legislature.

“I think that what’s most important is that we have an assessment this spring so that we know where they are,” Lee said. “If we don’t know where our students are, then we don’t know how to improve.”

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Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.








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5 Thoughts to “Tennessee Projects 65 Percent Learning Loss in Math, 50 Percent Loss in Third Grade Reading After COVID-19 Closures”

  1. Ralph

    If you read between the lines a bit, you will see that it is the “at risk” students that account for the bulk of this projected loss. Why? Well, probably because they have a home environment where the parent(s) doesn’t speak English, do not value education, or both and, as a result, the childen are not disciplined to attend to the lessons. This is the case under the best of circumstances and requires remedy, the contrived “crisis” has nothing to do with it.

    No, Comm. Schwinn is employing statistical legerdemain – 100% learning loss by at-risk students equates to 65%/50% loss for the student body at large.

    That is driven by her desire to grab more money and more power, much to the delight of the teacher unions. Moreover, this will give her the green light to get her unannounced “in home” visits, just as she wanted.

    School choice, and school choice for all, is the only choice. Thales Academy offers private instruction at half the expense per student, with far better results – so the state could fund attendance at a private institution such as that, and then put the remaining funds towards addressing the very real problems of the at risk students.

    Inclusion my left foot if it results in the stupefaction of the student body at large – which is exactly what you’re getting these days at public schools. Churning out future wards of the state.

  2. 83ragtop50

    Hard to believe that there can be a loss of 50% and 65% when there was limited learning. Of course 50% of zero is zero, so I guess it does make sense.

  3. Horatio Bunce

    After the assessment in the spring, will there then be calls for total dismantling of the public system by NEA water boy Andy Berke, like there was for Tennessee Virtual Academy, like there has been for any charter alternative, like there has been for the home schools that the state doesn’t control (or provide any funding for)? Remember how TVA was demonized because their tests were “almost in the bottom 10%” of public schools after allowing a limited number of already-behind students and only one year to recover the pre-existing educational deficits they inherited?

    1. Horatio Bunce

      Maybe Schwinn and the Coronahoax committee should have been more concerned about their own students instead of trying to spread the virus door-to-door to every household in the state with children ages 0-18.

  4. John

    Yeah, we’ll be lucky if that $40 million actually makes it tot he classroom. If each county’s central office is run like the one is Wilson county, they money will be gone before the teachers or kids see a dime of it. Then it will be used to construct secret amenities like a secret gym facility behind a locked door labeled, ‘janitor’s closet’.

    Furthermore, these are the results when you have a Governor who is either leading from behind or asleep at the wheel. Schwinn should have never been selected for this job and should have been fired once she was outted as being a dye in the wool liberal.