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Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman acted lawfully when he let school districts not apply end-of-year test scores to students' final grades, according to the state attorney general's office.

In an opinion released Wednesday, Attorney General Robert Cooper also contends the Tennessee Department of Education's delay in releasing Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results to schools did not break any law.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, had asked for Cooper's opinion after the department of education in May delayed the release of preliminary TCAP scores to local districts by three days.

Because of the last-minute notice of the delay, Huffman gave districts the chance to get exemptions from a four-year-old state statute that makes the scores account for 15 to 25 percent of students' final grades. More than 100 districts took advantage of it.

A state law passed this year gave the commissioner of education new waiver authorities, but a group of 15 Republican lawmakers this month accused him of breaking the law, arguing he went outside his authority in this instance.

The coalition, in a letter calling for his resignation that made a wide range of allegations, cited a part of the statute that prohibits waiving statutes related to "federal and student assessment and accountability."

Cooper, in his opinion, echoed the case education officials have made — that "assessment" refers to testing students and that students' final grades do not fall under accountability.

"The TCAP examinations themselves, in turn, cannot be waived because the state's assessment and accountability programs rest primarily upon the results of those tests," his opinion reads. "Students' final course grades, on the other hand, do not play a role in the state's student assessment or school accountability efforts.

"While final course grades certainly determine a student's academic performance within his or her school, they appear not to determine student or school performance at the state level."

Huffman released statewide TCAP scores this week, with results showing a flattening at the elementary and middle-school levels and gains in most high school areas.

The attorney general's office contends the initial delay in distributing preliminary scores to districts met requirements that it be released as soon as "practicable" and before June 30. The opinion also says conducting "post-equating," the process the department said caused the delay, did not compromise the integrity of the testing process, which would have violated a separate state law.

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