LCS Board requests that State suspend testing requirements

The Lincoln County Schools Board of Education has composed and approved a resolution petitioning the State of Tennessee to temporarily suspend the requirements for standard testing among students.

The resolution, which is four pages in length, is a product of the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the school system, citing as its very first item the danger involved in the presence of COVID-19 and the state of emergency that Tennessee has endured since March.

The argument that the Board has put forth with this resolution hinges primarily around precedent, citing early that what is specifically being called for is an extension of Public Chapter No. 652, which amended Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49 to temporarily remove the State mandate for “TNReady testing,” end-of-year examinations, and other forms of standardized student evaluation. This amendment applied only to the 2019-2020 school year in its original form, and thus does not provide these concessions to the students currently enrolled. However, the reasoning stated for the amendment in Public Chapter No. 652 is based on circumstances that reflect those of the present – chiefly, the aforementioned state of emergency.

Beyond the precedent set by the outright closure of schools that occurred last spring, the resolution put forth by the School Board also notes that “COVID-19 continues to spread at a rapid rate in Tennessee,” and “Tennessee schools… will likely have to engage in remote learning.” Notably, the school system has already engaged in remote learning; the future-tense language of the resolution is necessitated by the fact that the assessments in question pertain to the 20-21 year as a whole. The reliance on remote learning is compounded in the resolution with the statement that “Tennessee school districts will be implementing different plans for leaning from county to county,” making the overall point that a standardized learning experience cannot be expected for the student body during the COVID-19 crisis.

Furthermore, the resolution makes note that “students will likely face significant academic and behavioral regression upon returning to school,” pointing out that students may not even be entering into this year’s variable educational experience with the same degree of academic aptitude.

Beyond concern for student welfare, the resolution also states that “it will be difficult for school districts to comply with test security requirements,” calling into question another layer of the fairness that makes standardized testing possible.

With these observations made and concerns voiced, the resolution concludes, “[The Lincoln County Board of Education] supports and respectfully requests the State of Tennessee to suspend all state required student assessment, including but not limited to, TNReady testing, and suspend the student growth measure and/or any other portion of teacher evaluations directly related to student assessments to provide some relief to Tennesseans during these difficult and uncertain times and extend provisions contained in Public Chapter No. 652 for the 2020-2021 school year.”

The Elk Valley Times reached out to Superintendent Dr. Bill Heath regarding the resolution, and he gave his opinion as follows: “I recommended and fully support the recent Resolution approved by the Lincoln County Board of Education regarding High Stakes Testing. These tests count 20% of the student’s final grade, a major portion of teacher evaluation, school and district accountability, and are tied to other areas such as teacher tenure and pay raises. Given the impact of COVID 19 that began March 13th and still continues today, I see no circumstance where these tests should factor into those things. I do believe we should assess where our students are so we can plan to close the academic gaps created by COVID 19, however, these high stakes tests are not the way to do that.”