The Tennessee General Assembly convened for a special session to discuss learning loss and literacy reforms introduced by the governor’s office. State officials are proposing a series of reforms they dubbed “targeted intervention.” The first bill would establish a full-time tutoring core, after-school camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps. Additionally, the second bill proposed a third grade “reading gate” to ensure students are prepared before entering fourth grade and that K-3 educators teach phonics as the primary form of reading, which would be complemented by a screening tool for parents’ use.
The impact of standardized testing also faces reforms. The third bill would keep the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) in place for the 2021 school year, but wouldn’t impose any negative consequences on student assessment. This would ensure that educators and families have a benchmark to assess student progress, but no teacher or district would face penalties based on those TCAP results. Under the fourth bill, the state would adjust the state budget to give pay raises to all teachers immediately.
During the joint session he’d called for last month, Governor Bill Lee explained the rationale behind the proposals. He added that the state would be ready to implement the proposals as early as this summer, if passed.
“We’re meeting today because it’s time to intervene for our kids, who are staring down record learning losses. That in the short term mean inability for them to read on-level, or to understand basic math, but in the long term these learning losses mean higher rates of incarceration, they mean higher poverty rates,” stated Lee. “Big challenges require decisive action, which is why we have agreed to meet this week in an extraordinary legislative session. We cannot wait because our students cannot wait. It would be much simpler to hope or to assume that disruptions to school caused by COVID-19 would just come out in a wash. But unfortunately the data – the science – tells us that that’s not true. The data actually suggests there are actually real consequences for keeping students out of the classroom for this long.”
Lee cited that data informed state officials’ decisions, referencing studies that reported third-grade students in the state as having a 50 percent reduction in reading proficiency and 65 percent reduction in math proficiency. The governor also defended the state’s decision to reopen schools before many other states had. Lee asserted that the state served as a “national leader” in its return to in-person instruction.
So far, the governor shared that 145 of 147 of counties in Tennessee have returned to a variant of in-person learning.
“Here’s the bottom line: you can’t say ‘follow the science’ and keep schools closed. You can’t say, ‘I believe in public education’ and keep schools closed. And you can’t say you’re putting the needs of students first, and keep schools closed,” stated Lee. “To those that remain closed, I offer this simple encouragement: follow the science.”
Following the joint session, the Senate Education Committee convened to discuss the reforms. Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn issued a presentation to discuss each of the proposed bills in depth, including each bill’s funding sources and timelines.
The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to convene again on Wednesday morning, 9:30 a.m. CST to discuss the series of reform bills.
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