Watch the day 1 workshop recording and the day 2 meeting recording.

View the day 1 workshop materials and the day 2 meeting materials.

1. On Sept 27, 2022, the US Department of Education (USED) served TDOE with a notice that Tennessee must comply with ESSA accountability requirements or risk losing $500 million of Title 1 Part A federal funding. 

TDOE presented the findings to the TN SBE because of their role in reviewing and approving various components of the accountability system. States must comply with ESSA in order to receive federal funding, Title 1 Part A, that allocates money to school districts that serve  high percentages of students from low-income backgrounds. In Tennessee, Title 1 Part A is approximately $500 million, which is distributed to districts and schools based on their student enrollment. Losing Title 1 Part A funds would have a serious negative impact on vulnerable students, making compliance with the notice of high importance for the state. TDOE will have to make changes to comply with ESSA, including a possible revision of the list of schools identified as Priority schools. These schools make up the bottom 5% in academic achievement and serve a high proportion of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, making it crucial to accurately identify schools in greatest need of support. 

The US Department of Education found Tennessee non-compliant in these areas:

  1. TN can no longer include students with disabilities who take an alternate pathway to graduation in its federally reported graduation rate. Students can still receive diplomas, but this change will likely reduce TN’s federally reported graduation rate by nearly 2%.
  2. TN can no longer use ACT math results to  report math proficiency, resulting in a small decrease in average proficiency rates.
  3. TN must use only one course-based assessment for each subject, instead of the current three to measure math and ELA proficiency rates. TDOE plans to use only Algebra 1 and English 1, which will reduce state proficiency rates by approximately 3.7%. 
  4. TN must document every possible assessment students can take to meet graduation requirements, such as 8th-grade students taking Algebra 1, which is typically taken in 9th-grade. 
  5. TN should align on a consistent way to identify priority and reward schools, including specifying the number of year between each identification cycle.

It is important for Tennessee to reach ESSA compliance as soon as possible. TDOE plans to release the draft ESSA amendments for public comment sometime in November or December and submit the amendments to USED in early 2023.

2. TDOE presented a policy that would drop the edTPA exam requirement for teacher candidates enrolled in job-embedded educator preparation programs (EPPs). 

Since 2019, all first-time teacher licensure applicants must pass the edTPA exam, a portfolio-based licensure assessment designed to measure prospective teachers’ pedagogical skills. This requirement also applies to teacher candidates in job-embedded programs, a licensure pathway where bachelor’s degree holders work as teachers while completing educator preparation coursework over a three-year period. Due to logistical challenges of passing the edTPA while working, TDOE recommended dropping the edTPA requirement for job-embedded teacher candidates. This proposed policy comes at a time of extreme teacher shortage. In the 2021-2022 school year, Tennessee schools had a total of 1,024 vacancies and 1,354 positions filled by people holding emergency permits. On the other hand, TN SBE expressed concerns that waiving the edTPA exam could reduce teacher quality. However, reducing barriers to licensure could also help Tennessee grow a larger and more diverse teacher workforce. 

3. The TN Higher Education Commission (THEC) expects additional funding for two Career & Technical Education (CTE) grant programs, part of a larger push to prepare high schoolers for high-demand industry jobs.

THEC presented on two CTE grant programs, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant and the Supporting Post-Secondary Access in Rural Communities (SPARC) grant. The GIVE grant provides money through a competitive proposal process to increase access to workforce-aligned CTE programs. After two grants of $25 million each, THEC expects to release a third GIVE grant in the future of approximately $40 million. The SPARC grant works differently, providing money for CTE programs in economically at-risk and distressed counties, which serve many of Tennessee’s students in rural schools. In 2020, at-risk counties each received $124,000, and distressed counties each received $223,000. The THEC presenters emphasized the synergy of the two programs and their shared obstacles: lack of adequate space at high schools and lack of qualified instructors. Rural districts face higher fixed costs for school buildings because of their sparse student population, and CTE programs struggle to attract industry experts to teach CTE courses because they could make much more money working in the private sector. With these programs largely serving rural communities and students from low-income backgrounds, these obstacles present serious barriers to students’ postsecondary and career prospects and their future economic mobility. THEC presenters noted that stronger relationships with industry partners could alleviate this issue. 

4. TDOE wants to add two more pathways to earn a High School Equivalency (HSE) Diploma.

High school credentials are hugely important for job prospects. 90% of Tennessee’s high-demand occupations require one. However, 430,000 working-age Tennesseeans have no high school credential. People without a traditional high school diploma can earn a High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma by passing the HiSET exam, a national exam with five subjects. Tennessee began requiring the HiSET exam in 2014. In the seven years before the HiSET became required, Tennesseans earned nearly twice as many HSE diplomas than they did in the seven years after the HiSET exam was introduced. This drop in diplomas earned may be due to the high-stakes and stressful nature of the test. Because of this, TDOE suggested creating two additional pathways for students to earn the HSE diploma. First, they recommended granting HSE diplomas to any student who earns a TCAT diploma or certificate. Second, they recommended allowing students to demonstrate competency alternatively through ACT WorkKeys tests and Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE). Expanding pathways to High School Equivalency diplomas could improve job prospects and increase earnings for English learners, students experiencing homelessness, and students with disabilities, who are least likely to graduate from high school.   

5. The State Board passed a rule requiring school districts to adopt and enforce policies to use students’ original birth certificates to determine their gender for sports events.

The State Board passed this rule in compliance with T.C.A. § 49-6-310, which was signed into law during the most recent legislative session. According to the rule, state funding can be withheld from school districts that fail to adopt or enforce the policies listed in the statute. The amount withheld could range from 2% to 6% of the district’s allotted state funding. Even 2% would be a significant dollar amount to withhold from a school. For example, in Metro Nashville Public Schools, 2% of the state funding amounts to over $5 million, which equates to the salaries of over 100 beginner teachers. During discussion, TDOE shared they are not aware of any cases in Tennessee where the law or rule would apply. The vote was split, with two TN SBE members voting against the policy.


Equity Considerations

  • TDOE has identified the importance of recruiting and retaining educators of color to address teacher shortages. Would dropping the edTPA exam requirement for job-embedded teacher candidates increase the number of Tennessee’s educators of color?
  • If Tennessee creates additional pathways to earn a High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma, how will those options be communicated and promoted to students who would benefit most, such as English learners, students experiencing homelessness, and students with disabilities? Who will administer these pathways?
  • USED gave TDOE a deadline of December 1, 2022 to implement the required changes to Tennessee’s ESSA plan, but TDOE plans to submit its revised ESSA plan in early 2023. How will Tennessee mitigate harm to students from low-income backgrounds if Title 1 Part A funds are lost?