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Knox Co. Schools approve legislative priorities and third-grade retention policy during Jan. 5 meeting

During the meeting, education leaders will identify what goals they want to urge the Tennessee General Assembly to pursue.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Education leaders in Knox County gathered on Jan. 3 for their first work session of the new year. During this meeting, the Board of Education identified their legislative priorities and discussed several other items.

These are goals that the board will urge the Tennessee General Assembly to pursue during the 2022 legislative year. Board member Jennifer Owen and other KCS administrators prepared a list of the legislative goals that included specific ways to determine how schools are funded.

In the document, she urged the General Assembly to fully fund some positions in schools that work with students to help them improve their academic performance. She also urged the legislature to provide some funding for school nurses, counselors, social workers and mental health professionals.

The proposal also urges the legislature to allow education agencies to use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay people in roles that support social services. It also asks for more funding to improve technology infrastructure.

The document also urges lawmakers to provide funding for teacher salaries in each school, instead of using district-level ratios. They said funding should equal the number of teachers in each that is needed to provide good student-teacher ratios.

Finally, the proposal also urges lawmakers to use average daily membership rates from the 2020-2021 school year, so schools aren't harmed if they see reductions in the number of students attending due to COVID-19.

The proposal previously said that the board opposed legislation providing vouchers that divert public funds to private schools.

"Private entities are not required to serve all students or to meet Tennessee’s public school standards or accountability measures," the proposal said. "Vouchers diminish equal opportunity for students and public oversight of education."

The document also urges lawmakers to create guidelines and criteria for teacher evaluations that use input from local educators. They also said the guidelines should include measures that represent course content and performance, urging them to all nursing benchmark assessments as a component in evaluations.

Local education leaders also proposed urging lawmakers to fund Praxis tests for teacher candidates, especially for applicants with endorsements in high-need areas. They also want lawmakers to make the licensure process more flexible, especially for teachers from out-of-state.

The proposal would also ask lawmakers to get rid and streamline data collection requirements in the classroom, giving teachers more time to teach.

Finally, the proposal would urge lawmakers to allow the district to make retention decisions for third-grade students based on district data, giving more flexibility for district leaders to decide if students can continue past the third grade.

During the meeting, board members voted to remove the section on school vouchers with Owen and Watson voting against the decision. Bounds passed on the vote. The legislative priorities then passed.

During the meeting, the board also approved several policy changes on their second reading, making changes to the school system's policies on attendance, the system's nutrition program and many other topics.

Most of them are minor changes. One change would exempt students 17 years old and older from the compulsory attendance law as long as they are making satisfactory profess in their classes.

The policies also formalized the grading system for students enrolled in dual enrollment courses at an institution of higher education. If the institution does not assign numeric grades, a chart will be used to convert the letter grade to a KCS grade.

They also approved a new policy that changes the requirements students must meet to move past the third grade. The policy was created after Tennessee lawmakers passed a law in 2021 strengthening third-grade retention requirements to include a minimum reading assessment on state tests.

In the new policy, students must score at least "on track" on the English language arts portion of the end-of-year TCAP tests to advance past the third grade. If they do not meet that benchmark, they would have three options to retest based on the current state law.

If a student doesn't meet the state standard, they could retest to meet the benchmark before the school year ends. If they can't pass by the time the school year ends, then they could also attend a six-week learning loss bridge camp over the summer. At this camp, they would need to have at least a 90% attendance rate and would have to demonstrate English language proficiency growth on the test at the end of the camp.

If not, then parents could also agree to have their child advance to the fourth grade with participation in the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps. Students would receive English tutoring and be retested. If they do not meet state standards by the end of the fourth grade, they would then be held back.