On Thursday at the Smyrna Event Center, the Rutherford County state delegation hosted Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn for a forum to discuss the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act. The event, moderated by Representative Bryan Terry, MD (R-Murfreesboro), included a short overview of the law by the Commissioner followed by a question and answer session.
The law, which passed during a January 2021 Education Special Session, has recently garnered some attention due to the potential for retaining third graders if they fail to meet proficiency standards. The delegation had planned to have Commissioner Schwinn come to Rutherford County in November, but with some misinformation about the law causing some anxiety and concerns amongst parents and teachers, the delegation worked with the Department of Education to expedite a visit from the Commissioner.
“Regardless of the cause of misinformation, members of our delegation heard from parents and teachers who were concerned about the potential for students to be retained in third grade,” stated Rep. Terry. “While potential retention is part of the law, there seemed to be some hyperbole and misinformation floating around that needed clarity. I think the Commissioner did a great job explaining the circumstances and the intent of the law during the forum and the feedback was immediately positive.”
Rep. Terry said that prior to expediting the meeting, the delegation met with the Commissioner to discuss the law and the concerns coming from the community. He explained that, during that meeting, it became apparent that the vision set forth by the Department and the interpretation of the law by locals were disconnected.
“During our delegation meeting with Commissioner Schwinn, it became readily apparent to me that the vision and the process of the law’s implementation as presented to us by the Commissioner was not the same interpretation that was being discussed locally,” explained Terry. “We all felt like it would be beneficial to bring her to Rutherford County sooner rather than later to provide clarity around the law and to receive feedback from the community. We really appreciate her willingness to join us.”
Rep. Terry moderated the event and was joined by Murfreesboro City School Board member Barbara Long and Rutherford County School Board member Caleb Tidwell on the panel. Prior to the event, the delegation received around 130 questions from parents, teachers, and board members. The panel organized the questions into eleven different categories while removing off-topic or duplicative questions. They spent about an hour asking the Commissioner for feedback on the questions from the community.
“There was significant positive feedback from those in attendance after the event. It was my hope that in addition to providing clarity, the discussion could spark ideas for how to improve the legislation,” said Terry. “Those goals were met as I’ve already had follow up discussions with a superintendent and the Department on how we could potentially cut down on the need for some appeals while improving the validity of the testing process.”
The General Assembly will reconvene in January of 2023. Any amendment to the legislation would have to occur next year.
“Our delegation is open to refining the law and helping students improve their reading proficiency. Though the law passed in 2021 and we are only now receiving any local feedback, there is always an opportunity to amend a law. We look forward to seeing what suggestions arise and working to implement positive changes,” concluded Terry.