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Tennessee's Assessment Woes May Be a Test for Betsy DeVos

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Tennessee lawmakers' decision to allow districts to essentially toss this year's assessment scores due to serious technical difficulties could provide an early gauge of just how flexible U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is willing to be when it comes to implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to test students in grades 3 through 8 annually, and once in high school. Those results are supposed to be used to identify low-performing schools. But after testing glitches due to venor problems, Tennessee's legislature earlier this month passed a measure barring this year's scores from being used in accountability systems for schools, teachers, districts, and students, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.

Tennessee—whose ESSA plan was approved late last summer—will likely need to submit a waiver from the federal testing requirement. An Education Department spokeswoman said officials are reviewing the Volunteer State's law.

It's not a sure thing that the state will get a waiver. DeVos and her team appear to be trying to get away from waivers, which were a hallmark of the Obama administration. The department, though, has extended states flexibility in other ways, including in allowing North Dakota districts to offer the ACT in lieu of the state test.

"No one is in a good position here," said Chad Aldeman, who served in the department during the Obama administration and is now a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, a consulting organization. Tennessee's legislature ditched the PARCC test a few years ago and has switched testing vendors. "The state has not [made] stability a key priority in their testing vendors." He said the decision to keep switching vendors and tests, spurred in part by the legislature, will mean Tennessee may need to be  "bailed out by the feds."

Already, Democratic advocates are urging DeVos not to let Tennessee off the hook.

"The victims of this escape from accountability are Tennessee's schoolchildren and in particular, low-income students and students of color who are most in need of the support and funding that should be directed to schools where students are falling the furthest behind," said Charlie Barone, the director of policy for Democrats for Education Reform. "The ESSA statute is unambiguously clear that Tennessee must seek and obtain approval from Secretary DeVos who we hope will set aside partisanship and fully exercise her responsibility in this regard by asking tough questions and seeking a solution that best serves Tennessee's students, parents, and taxpayers."

Image: Getty Images

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:


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