Williamson County school officials call for state to waive TNReady requirements for 2020-21 school year, express concern for funding

Tennessee-area school leaders are calling for the state to waive testing and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Tennessee-area school leaders are calling for the state to waive testing and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Tennessee-area school leaders are calling for the state to waive testing and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

With many districts across the state planning a mix of virtual and in-person learning at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Williamson County-area school officials are expressing concerns about how districts will administer state-mandated testing as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to add active cases to the region.

TNReady, part of the state's comprehensive testing program, is typically administered in person during spring and fall testing blocks for third to eighth grades, with end-of-course exams required at the high school level, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

Given the uncertainty around if students will have an in-person instruction option for the full year, Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden is calling on Gov. Bill Lee to cancel testing for this year.

Golden sent a letter to Lee on July 17, which was then circulated from the social media accounts of multiple WCS board of education members.

"On behalf of Williamson County Schools, I am asking you to use your emergency powers to extend the waiver through the 202021 school year and waive the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program (TCAP) tests, which include, but are not limited to, TNReady assessments, English learner assessments, alternate TCAP assessments and end-of-course examinations," Golden said in the letter.

In March, the Tennessee Legislature signed a bill to cancel TNReady for the state after requesting a federal waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. It is not yet known if the Legislature will enact a similar bill for this school year.

Golden also called on Lee to waive requirements for the number of instructional days required by the state. The state currently requires 180 days of educational instruction; however, Golden said with many students required to quarantine if they contract the coronavirus, giving districts the ability to shorten the school year would provide flexibility.

"We recognize students may need to be absent due to quarantine or illness, and we may find it to be in the best interest of students and families to shorten the school year," Golden wrote.

While board members have expressed support for waiving some state requirements, there has also been concern for what that would mean for state and federal funding.

David Snowden, the director of schools for Franklin Special School District, addressed the topic during the FSSD board of education meeting July 20. Snowden stated while there is speculation the matter of testing may be addressed in a yet-to-be-called special legislative session, he said he has heard rumors doing so could decrease funding that schools receive.

"I know the legislative body is coming back into session within the next couple of weeks I believe. I think that those question [about waivers] will be asked, and I don't know obviously how they will address those questions," Snowden said. "There has been a rumor that if they shorten the number of days the they would also shorten the amount of money that's being sent to school districts, and that's something that no school district would want to see. In other words, the [Basic Education Program] is based on 180 or equivalent days of instruction, so if they take it and say that you only attend[ed] 170 days or whatever number, and then they use the ratio and take that amount of money away per day, I think it would be pretty devastating for some school districts."

However, Snowden said this was only a rumor and the TNDOE has not sent that guidance to the district.

"I have not seen that in writing, that's strictly one of the rumors that's going around," he said.

Snowden said as it stands, districts do not have the authority to alter testing or instructional time.

Read the full letter from Golden below.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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