Tennessee governor responds to criticism over learning loss report

Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 6:24 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is responding to criticism over a report his administration released that showed a “significant” learning loss for students because of school closures from COVID-19.

Last week, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said the data showed a 50 percent drop in third-grade reading rates and a 65 percent decrease in math.

“This is impacting folks, whether you are in an urban, a suburban, or a rural community very similarly,” Schwinn said.

“I am particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact that this learning loss has on minority and low-income students,” Lee said.

But those numbers were based on data gathered before the pandemic.

The numbers are based on a report released in April, only a couple of weeks after Tennessee schools closed, from NWEA, a non-profit research firm.

The authors of the report wrote that their projections were based on a national sampling of data from the 2017-18 school year.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson says state leaders were misleading.

“I think it’s a justification to force students back into the classrooms,” Parkinson said. “Not one time did they request data, actual data, from the superintendents or from the school districts to justify the numbers or the claims that they were making.”

WMC reached out to the state’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, to see if they had any data that might show learning loss similar to what the state projected.

“We started diagnostics and assessments last week to determine how much knowledge our students retained since last school year,” the district said in a statement. “Results of the assessments are expected in October.”

A reporter in east Tennessee asked Lee about the report and the criticism on Monday.

The governor appears to be sticking by it.

“We’re looking for as much information as possible, as early as possible to begin to understand what learning loss looks like so that we can make adjustments so that we can have interventions so that we can minimize the amount of loss that (students) have, and give them a greater opportunity for a future,” Lee said.

The state’s learning loss report traveled quickly.

It was even read on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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