October 20, 2020

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Tennessee education commissioner accused of misleading about learning loss

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Educators and lawmakers from across the state are criticizing the Tennessee...

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Educators and lawmakers from across the state are criticizing the Tennessee Department of Education for data it released, showing Tennessee students were experiencing a “significant” learning loss due to schools being closed from COVID-19.



a person in a suit standing in front of a building: Tennessee education commissioner accused of misleading about learning loss


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Tennessee education commissioner accused of misleading about learning loss

But it turns out much of that data was based on testing done before the pandemic, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee, a non-profit news organization focused on education issues.

It was an announcement that got everyone’s attention.

Tennessee education commissioner Penny Schwinn released data to show the impact prolonged school closures were having on Tennessee students.

“Because of some of these building closures and because of the impacts of COVID-19, we are seeing a significant decrease in the proficiency of students entering school this fall,” said Schwinn.

Schwinn said data showed a 50 percent decrease in third-grade reading rates and a 65 percent decrease in math.

“In fact, what we are seeing is that those students who are lower proficiency at the end of last year are having 2.5 times more of a negative impact on their overall proficiency,” said Schwinn.

But according to Chalkbeat Tennessee, the data Schwinn relied on was gathered before the pandemic — some of it dating back to 2014.

Chalkbeat Tennessee says during a call with superintendents on Friday Schwinn described the data as “estimated predictions.”

“I think it’s a justification to force the students back into the classrooms,” said State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “It seems pretty bogus to me.”

Parkinson said state leaders didn’t reach out to school districts before making the announcement.

“The fact that we have all of these hard-working educators, students, superintendents, and not one time did they request data, actual data, to from the superintendents or from the school districts to justify the numbers or the claims that they were making,” said Parkinson. “This narrative went out nationally, stating that our students were behind on learning.”

He says while he is concerned about potential learning loss, it’s more to do with the loss of instructional days not necessarily because of virtual learning.

Researchers across the country say while COVID-19 could very well cause learning loss, they caution against making predictions about student proficiency too early.

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