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Gov. Lee says student assessments shouldn't be held against teachers this school year

Lee cited the "unprecedented disruption" of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Friday he wants to hold harmless public educators from assessment results this school year in light of the disruptive effects of COVID-19 in schools.

“Given the unprecedented disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic and extended time away from the classroom has had on Tennessee’s students, my Administration will work with the General Assembly to bring forward a solution for this school year that alleviates any burdens associated with educator evaluations and school accountability metrics," Lee said in a statement released to the press.

Lee was expected to address the topic Friday morning in a phone briefing with reporters.

The Tennessee Education Association on Friday called Lee's announcement a good first step, but not the only one that should be taken.

“It’s not just standardized testing," TEA President Beth Brown said in a statement. "Our evaluation system is simply not designed to assess teaching during a pandemic."

Educators and advocates have argued it's wrong to critique or evaluate teachers this year as they struggle to offer in-person and virtual lessons to Tennessee's thousands of public school students. Student performance is a component of teacher evaluations.

J.C. Bowman, executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, said teachers appreciated Lee's position.

"In regard to testing, we are unsure of the value they bring to this academic year. Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing is a dollar taken away from the classroom. This year it may be better for schools to focus on remediation, growth, and the safety of students. However, we are extremely grateful to the Governor for taking this position.”

State administrators have acknowledged a likely "slide" in learning among students after the pandemic hit in March. Schools shut down in-person lessons through the spring.

Districts this school year are offering a mix of virtual and in-person learning to alleviate parental concerns about exposure to the virus. Lee has said repeatedly that in-person learning is optimal to ensure K-12 students are learning reading, math and other skills they'll need to be competitive in the job market and advance in higher learning.

Lee's announcement stressed that standard assessments still would be administered this 2020-21 school year, in order to "ensure an accurate picture of where our students are and what supports are needed to regain learning loss and get them back on the path to success.”

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in the joint statement that the department concurs.

"Administering assessments to gauge student learning and ensuring strong accountability best enables us to meet the needs of all students, however we know the significant challenges our teachers and school and district leaders are facing and it remains critical to reward their good work. We look forward to working together with our elected officials on a solution for this school year that preserves our strong foundations while ensuring that every teacher feels supported in focusing on educating their students,” her statement reads.

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