Lawmakers, superintendents blindsided by Tennessee Education Department learning loss projections

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Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s announcement of COVID-19-related learning loss projections for Tennessee students took state lawmakers and school superintendents by surprise.

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In a joint news conference with Gov. Bill Lee last week, Schwinn announced Tennessee students are expected to face learning loss of 50% in English and 65 % in math, stressing the importance of in-person learning. Projections were based on national research and early results of beginning-of-year student checkpoint assessments in Tennessee.

“This press release really caught a lot of us off guard,” Henry County Schools Superintendent Leah Watkins told The Center Square. “I feel like this was a smack in the face of my educators, of my team, who have given up summer break to have had to change everything they do to make it work for a dual environment – virtual and in person. It just feels like an affront to the work that my team does.”

Schwinn did not give superintendents notice of the learning loss announcement on a regular conference call Wednesday morning before the Wednesday afternoon news conference, Watkins said. Superintendents received the data report Thursday evening, after an outpouring of distress.

“I’ve had about 21 superintendents call me furious about the Wednesday release,” state Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, told The Center Square. “They feel betrayed.”

Schwinn apologized to superintendents for the lack of notice on a phone call Friday.

“It’s heartbreaking to see this with no preparation, no opportunity to look at the data to question the data before it’s released,” Watkins said.

Superintendents have raised concerns with the data underlying the department’s projections. When questioned about the source of the data, Schwinn said Wednesday projections were based on a national learning loss study, as well as Tennessee student data collected from the