Learning Loss, TCAP tests and other education bills dominate legislative discussion

special session
Posted at 6:52 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 21:33:31-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee lawmakers had a busy day as they continued to debate a number of education bills.

Governor Bill Lee called the special session to address the issue of learning loss in students as a result of virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of Governor Lee's biggest concerns is about learning loss in students.

The issue of learning loss is front and center. A solution could be the addition of state-funded after-school and summer programs in districts across the state.

The programs would take in kids with learning loss and guide them to the appropriate level of both reading and math comprehension. It's a program state lawmakers feel is important as at-home learning has a big impact on kids in the state.

"One thing that we do know is that kids who are moving through the process, at the end we want them to graduate and be able to go to college that they want to or community college or get a job, but you can't do that if you can't do at a grade level and it's hard to do it without math as well," said TN Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton.

Some Democrats told NewsChannel 5 they agree with the premise of the bill, they don't see how it can be done while still socially distanced and safe during the pandemic.

Tennessee will again not hold teachers and school districts accountable for yearly testing scores, which they expect will take a dive again in 2021. The scores from testing will be used to gauge where kids stand and potentially be a marker for assistance in their education.

Speaker Sexton is standing behind the bill, which was debated Wednesday. He says this seems like the fairest practice possible. Plus, school districts can still choose to use test scores to their benefit.

"We're not holding them accountable for the grade that they get or for their evaluation due to the pandemic times," Sexton said. "The problem is, if the kids did have learning loss, that's a detriment to the school. Could be through no fault of their own. So, we're going to hold them harmless this time like we did last year."

Opponents worry the measures will be hard to safely carry out amid the pandemic.

"Until we address how we can get our kids back in school safely, which I thought we were coming here to do, not create additional policies but how can we get them back in school safely. And we're not addressing that at all," said Democratic Nashville Rep. Vincent Dixie.

Speaker Sexton also wants to level the playing field for students who want to take part in classes or programs that aren't offered at their school. He's proposing a bill that would create an online catalog across all Tennessee schools in order to provide equal access to classes across districts.

"In high school, not everyone can afford multiple foreign languages. They can't find the teachers or advanced classes. And so, this would allow a student to take a class that's not being offered with other kids across the state," Sexton explained.

House lawmakers plan to have all of the education bills passed through, by the end of the week.

Also included in discussions is teacher pay raises and a new reading benchmark for students to pass the third grade. The Tennessee Education Association reacted to the push saying the proposed 4% raise is not enough. Read the group's full response by clicking here.