With the first session of the 112th General Assembly now closed, it’s the perfect time to reflect on progress made in each of the four priority areas outlined in SCORE’s 2021 State of Education Report.

One report priority is to recover and reorient education systems in response to COVID-19. During a January special session, the General Assembly addressed this priority by passing legislation to extend learning time for students, ensure the state collects comparable summative state assessment data, and stabilize funding.

In the January special session, the legislature presented a statewide COVID-19 recovery plan to accelerate student learning through the Tennessee Learning Loss and Student Acceleration Act.

The Learning Loss and Student Acceleration Act is very comprehensive; here we are focused on the portions pertaining to COVID-19 recovery. The legislation extends learning time through state-funded summer camps and tutoring to remediate lost instructional time — two research-backed initiatives SCORE supports as strategies to make significant learning gains. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Requires school districts and public charter schools to offer students in grades 1-5 a six-week summer learning camp in 2021 and 2022
  • Requires school districts and public charter schools to offer students in grades 6-8 a four-week summer learning loss bridge camp in 2021 and 2022
  • Requires school districts and public charter schools to offer students in grades 1-5 a one-hour summer after-school learning minicamp in 2021 and 2022
  • Creates the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps (TN ALL Corps), a network of high-quality tutors to assist districts and schools

Importantly, both the TN ALL Corps and the four-week summer learning loss bridge camps will continue after the summer of 2022. This commitment is one example of how the state is leveraging pandemic-inspired innovations to better support students in years beyond COVID-19 recovery. 

During the special session, Governor Lee’s administration and the Tennessee General Assembly also took steps to maintain our state assessment while making needed changes to the accountability system in response to COVID-19.

In a statement released in the fall of 2020, SCORE highlighted the importance of administering a state assessment for the 2020-21 school year while making temporary changes to the formal accountability and teacher evaluation system. State leadership passed legislation during the special session that:

  • Maintains the state’s annual summative assessment
  • Clarifies that no Priority School or Achievement School District school designations would be assigned based on 2020-21 student data
  • Ensures student growth data is only incorporated into a teacher’s evaluation if the inclusion results in a higher score  

This legislation ensured that educators, families, and policymakers have the information needed to best target investments and differentiate instruction for students moving forward. Tennessee leaders held the line on the foundational policies that have helped improve student outcomes over the last decade while also making adjustments necessary to reorient from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, Tennessee protected education funding, providing needed financial stability during this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected both K-12 and postsecondary education enrollment in Tennessee, a key factor in determining funding levels. SCORE recommended that Tennessee stabilize education funding for the upcoming fiscal year, as research demonstrates that funding cuts can have negative impacts on student outcomes. The Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation and a FY21-22 budget that:

  • Ensures the state’s K-12 funding formula calculation for the 2021-22 school year will not yield less funding than was provided for the 2020-21 school year
  • Fully funds the outcomes growth in the state’s outcomes-based funding formula

As a result of legislation passed and investments made during the 2021 legislative session, Tennessee emerges from the pandemic stronger and more resilient — better positioned to support student success. However, education leaders must continue to refine policies and follow with strong implementation in order to accelerate student learning and improve outcomes for all Tennessee students.

Bryce Warden Is SCORE’s senior policy associate. Madeline Price is SCORE’s K-12 policy analyst.