FILE - Commissioner Penny Schwinn Classroom

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn speaks with a student during a school visit Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at Westwood Elementary School in Manchester, Tenn. 

(The Center Square) – Teachers and schools should not face penalties associated with student assessments for the 2020-2021 school year, Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Friday morning.

Calling for suspension of academic accountability measures because of the unprecedented disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education, Lee and Schwinn pledged to work with the Tennessee Legislature to ensure teachers and schools do not face negative consequences linked to test results this year.

“We're asking, in many cases, our teachers to come back in and teach in unorthodox ways – both virtual and in-person formats,” Lee said during a virtual news conference. “It's difficult for our kids. It's particularly difficult on our teachers – dedicated professionals who are tasked with really making a miracle happen for students who might be catching up from last year.”

Although Lee and Schwinn are calling for foregoing accountability measures tied to testing results, neither is proposing to do away with testing entirely this year. Both emphasized the importance of testing in understanding how to respond to learning loss.

“While I'm a strong believer in assessment and accountability as ways to improve student outcomes, I also believe this unprecedented time has had historic impacts on the way we educate our students, and that calls for necessary adjustments this year,” Schwinn said.

“We can't fill in the gaps with reading or math or learning loss without understanding where they are,” Lee said. “However, the accountability structure that we have in place has got to look different.”

Lee said his office is in conversation with legislative leaders about providing the necessary approval to hold teachers harmless and will continue to work with the Legislature to pass such a provision when it reconvenes in January.

Several legislators shared support of the proposal on social media Friday morning.

“Today [Gov. Lee] called for removing negative consequences for schools and educators associated with student assessments for the 20-21 school year. Student assessments will be conducted as planned,” Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager, R-Kingston, tweeted. “I will work with Gov. Lee and my colleagues in the legislature to ensure teachers are not burdened by evaluations and accountability metrics.”

“Parents, Students, Teachers and Administrators ... the big news that you’ve been asking about since school started,” Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, tweeted. “Will allow our teachers to focus on teaching in such a challenging time! Win for parents, students, teachers and administrators!”

Senate Democrats did not respond to a request for comment.

Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.