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Legislature adopts bills to tackle COVID-19 effects on students' proficiency in reading, math

According to a press release, the passed legislation increases the salary component of the education funding formula by 4%.

NASHVILLE, Tenn — On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and members of the General Assembly closed a special session addressing the negative impact of COVID-19 on students' proficiency in reading and math caused by the transition of in-person classes to virtual learning.

According to a press release, the legislation increases the salary part of the education funding formula by 4%.

The four-day special session sparked various conflicts inside the Republican-dominated Statehouse over the best measures to help struggling teachers and students amid the outbreak.

Some lawmakers sought, without luck, to force larger districts such as Memphis and Metro Nashville to go back to in-person instruction.

Lee’s list of education priorities included the impact of COVID-19 on students' learning process, phonics-based reading instruction, and accountability measures to inform student progress.

“This is a momentous day for Tennessee, for our students, and for our parents because our General Assembly has drawn a line in the sand, and we have said we can no longer accept that only one-third of our students are proficient in reading and in math,” Sexton said in the release. “We want to be No. 1 in education; I appreciate Gov. Lee for his vision, as well as Lt. Gov McNally, and the House and Senate for their partnership as we all have worked together this week to transform educational outcomes for Tennessee students.”

The passed legislation includes the following measures:

Improving students' learning process (SB 7002/HB 7004):

  • Requires interventions for struggling students including after-school learning camps beginning this summer
  • A program that prioritizes students who score below proficient in both reading (ELA) and math subjects
  • Create the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps to provide ongoing tutoring for students throughout the entire school year
  • Strengthens laws around a third-grade reading gate so the state does not advance students who are not prepared

Phonics-based reading instructions (SB 7003/HB 7002):

  • Ensure local education agencies (LEAs) use a phonics-based approach for kindergarten through third-grade reading instruction
  • Establish a reading screener for parents and teachers to identify when students need help, well before third grade
  • Provide training and support for educators to teach phonics-based reading instruction

Accountability measures to inform student progress (SB 7001/HB 7003):

  • Extend hold harmless provisions from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2020-2021 school year so that students, teachers, schools, and districts do not face any negative consequences associated with student assessments
  • Provide parents and educators with assessment data including TCAP testing to provide an accurate picture of where Tennessee students are and what supports are needed to offset any learning losses

The Associated Press contributed to this report.