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First Weekly Wrap of 2021

January, 22, 2021
House Republicans address education in special session
Republicans returned to Nashville on Tuesday to begin a special legislative session on education called by Gov. Bill Lee. In a joint convention of the House and Senate, the governor laid out his legislative initiatives for the lawmakers.

In his speech, Lee pointed to learning loss, low literacy rates and administering state assessments as some of the biggest obstacles schools in our state have grappled with since the start of the pandemic. To help schools overcome these challenges, House Republican leaders introduced four pieces of legislation this week.

Improving Student Literacy
Increasing the student literacy rate has been a priority for legislators in the General Assembly for many years. Currently in Tennessee, only one in three 3rd graders are proficient or advanced readers by the time they reach the 4th grade. Students who do not achieve reading proficiency by the 3rd grade are more likely to drop out of high school, be incarcerated, or experience poverty as adults.

To improve student literacy in the state, House Bill 7002 enacts the “Tennessee Literacy Success Act,” requiring local school districts to provide foundational literacy skills instruction through phonics-based instruction and provide reading interventions and support. Additionally, Local Education Agencies (LEA) and public charter schools are required to develop a Foundational Literacy Skills Plan to articulate the district’s locally driven solutions to improve literacy outcomes for their students.
Teachers will also be trained in literacy instruction. Educator preparation providers will provide training on foundational literacy skills, and K-3 teaching candidates will be required to pass a reading instruction assessment.

Modifying Student Assessment Requirements
Student assessments serve as a crucial element to measure student achievements. House Bill 7003 extends hold harmless provisions from the 2019-20 academic year to 2020-21 so that students, teachers, schools and districts do not face negative consequences associated with standardized tests. Parents and educators will be able to access important assessment data to provide an accurate picture of where our students are and what supports are needed to regain any learning lost.

The state will still require Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) testing to be administered in order for the districts to be held harmless on school and district-level accountability measures.

Addressing Learning Loss
Covid-19 disrupted the learning process for many Tennessee students. Students across the state have exhibited learning loss in critical areas of reading and math due to pandemic-related school closures.

House Bill 7004 enacts the “Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act,” requiring local districts and charter schools to implement interventions and support for struggling students. The bill requires the Department of Education to develop and administer after-school learning mini camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps starting in summer 2021. The Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps will be created to provide tutoring year-round to students in need.

The state will fully fund the learning loss remediation and student acceleration programs for all priority students who enroll. LEAs may offer additional seats to non-priority students if additional seats are available or if the LEAs pay for additional students to participate. Participating teachers will receive at least $1,000 a week, with stipends differentiated based on a variety of performance factors.

The bill also requires the establishment of an innovative assessment program, which will provide free, universal reading and math screeners and benchmark assessments to districts to be used as pre- and post-tests for the summer programs. This act strengthens the state’s 3rd grade reading retention policy by ensuring that students are on grade-level before being promoted to the 4th grade, while also providing rigorous, and well-funded interventions for students who are behind grade-level.
Increased Funding for Teachers, Schools
House Bill 7020 appropriates the funding for these initiatives, adding over $100 million to Tennessee’s public education system.
• $535,200 in state dollars is set aside to administer the literacy program.
• $81 million is appropriated to establish and support the learning loss remediation and student acceleration programs.
• In addition to these funds, $42.9 million is allocated to LEAs to be used to increase teacher salaries from January 2021 through June 2021.

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