Lawmakers seek to lift testing requirements as schools close

Published 8:41 am Thursday, March 19, 2020


Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are working quickly on a proposal to drop state testing this spring in response to Gov. Bill Lee’s latest effort to contain the new coronavirus by asking all schools to close by the end of the week.

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The Republican-dominant Legislature is considering a measure that would not only cancel Tennessee’s student assessment test — known as TNReady — but also waive the required 180 days of classroom instruction for the 2019-2020 school year.

Lee has held off from issuing a statewide school closure mandate in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, but his administration has maintained that all schools will likely comply with the request.

In the meantime, state education officials have scrambled to ensure school districts, teachers and students won’t inadvertently be punished for in-person classes being canceled.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn submitted a waiver to the federal government earlier this week asking for approval to waive certain testing and attendance requirements, but her agency says that Tennessee also needs sign-off from the Legislature to do so.

Lawmakers are facing a time crunch to address the issue, however, now that legislative leaders have said they want to recess by the end of the week. The goal is to approve a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year and then return June 1 to finish leftover business.

That means the seven-page emergency school bill landed on lawmakers’ desks for the first time Wednesday.

The bill acknowledges that schools may be closed indefinitely, noting that “the health and safety risks to Tennesseans from COVID-19 are not yet fully understood and may necessitate school closures beyond March 31, 2020.”

Other provisions in the bill include ensuring full state funding despite student attendance; dropping the requirement that high school students must pass a civics test to graduate; eliminating the 11th-grader college readiness exam; and ensuring that eligible seniors aren’t prevented from graduating on time.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Tennessee had more than 70 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, most of them in Middle Tennessee.