Links to February 3rd workshop agenda and recording

Links to February 4th meeting agenda and recording.

1. The TNSBE approved a change to the Special Education Programs & Services Rule that requires districts to provide all restraint and isolation reports involving students with disabilities within 5 business days of the incident occurring. 

TNSBE approved a final reading of revisions to ensure there is efficient communication regarding restraint and isolation used by local education agencies (LEAs) with students with disabilities. The ACLU has identified forms of restraint as corporal punishment and education equity advocates across the country are trying to ban the use of corporal punishment due to its disproportionate used on students with disabilities and Black students. Public Chapter 900, adopted during the 2018 Tennessee legislative session, prohibits corporal punishment for students with disabilities without parental consent, a crucial step in ensuring that Tennessee schools that are safe for students with disabilities. 

Last year, The Education Trust wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education requesting a federal initiative to create safer and more inclusive schools. Moving forward, the Education Trust in Tennessee will monitor this revised TNSBE policy and its impact on the use of restraint with students with disabilities. Furthermore, The Education Trust in Tennessee supports HB 2564/SB 2213 which, as introduced, prohibits the use of corporal punishment against students in Tennessee public schools.  

2. As the state continues to grapple with laws and programs regarding 3rd-grade student retention, the State Board learned about trends in student retention over time.

The 2021 Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, set to be implemented for the 2022-2023 school year, requires LEAs to retain 3rd-grade students if they do not score ‘on track’ or ‘mastered’ on TCAP’s ELA assessment and do not participate in an intervention program. In 2019, 63% of 3rd graders would have been at risk of retention in 2019 if this law were in place. Students have now experienced adverse effects of COVID-19 on their schooling, making the potential for a large number of students to be retained a looming reality. 

Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) presented twelve years of data on K-3 retention in Tennessee to the TNSBE, which showed evidence of students from low-income backgrounds being consistently retained at higher rates than their peers. As a highly intrusive and expensive intervention, retention has mixed consequences, ranging from negative or null effects to long-term negative impacts. As such, it is important to consider which students will be most affected with this change.

On March 3rd, HB1077/SB1225, a caption bill on the Generally Assembly website failed in the House. The bill sought to expand evidence of ELA proficiency beyond TCAP and to exempt students with disabilities from the retention portion of the law. Efforts in the General Assembly are ongoing in order to address equity considerations in 3rd-grade retention, and The Education Trust in Tennessee supports provisions for exemptions for students with unique learning needs.  

3. The State Board is working to address teacher vacancies by gathering data to better understand when and why vacancies are taking place, with the aspiration of retaining high-skilled teachers for high-need areas. 

This policy, among many, works to address a nationwide teacher shortage, which is being exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. TDOE presented proposed changes to the district-level differentiated pay plan that provides additional compensation for high-need, high-performing teachers, and/or to teachers taking on additional responsibilities. Using teacher vacancy data, districts are able to target their recruiting and retaining efforts for specific positions. One of the proposed policy changes will change the deadline for district differentiated pay plans to October, rather than July, to provide a more accurate understanding of teacher vacancies throughout the academic year. TDOE hopes to eventually use this data to develop a forward-looking, proactive plan to preemptively determine where vacancies will appear and work to strategically retain teachers.

It is important to note, however, “vacancy” simply refers to open positions in districts, and does not factor in endorsements, licensure, or certification of those that are hired and in teaching positions. Without making this distinction, vacancy data misrepresents the disparity of experienced licensed and certified teachers in schools and the Black and Latino students affected by this disparity. 

4. Redesigned Statewide Dual Credit (SDC) Courses are providing students, particularly those without access to teachers with advanced certifications, with Early Post Secondary Opportunities (EPSOs) so that they can earn transferable college credit. 

High school students enrolled in statewide dual credit (SDC) courses must pass an end of course “challenge exam” to receive a course credit that is transferable to any Tennessee college or university. However, since the program began, scores and pass rates of challenge exams have been consistently low across all courses, with students not receiving the credits associated with these courses. Last year, the overall exam pass rate was 6.3%. While low, this pass rate saved Tennessee families an estimated $2,686,034 in postsecondary tuition and fees and is an over 50% return on investment for the state of Tennessee. 

Nonetheless, low exam scores and pass rates led the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) to improve SDC courses. Their team standardized curriculum resources, provided students access to uniform and curriculum-aligned college-level textbooks, and prepared teachers with exam blueprints and course pacing guidelines. Now, TBR is seeing positive results, such as a business course whose pass rate jumped from 1.5% to 23.7%. Five of the six redesigned course’s experienced an increase in the median score of the exams and as a correlated result, an increase in the number of students earning college credit. 

While there is course overlap with other programs (e.g. IB, AP), SDC is a popular option for districts, such as rural school districts, that struggle to find secondary teachers who are certified to teach advanced courses. For students and families, particularly from low-income backgrounds, the SDC program makes higher education degrees more accessible. Continuing to support these initiatives is critical in order to achieve equitable access to early post secondary opportunities. 

5. Proposed changes to the Residential Mental Health Facilities Rule did not address ongoing concerns regarding the quality of care that students receive when they are educated in residential treatment centers, or the limitations in services that are defined by insurance instead of student need. 

Tennessee has 48 residential treatment centers, 23% of which are privately operated, that provide 24-hour psychiatric and therapeutic treatment to students. While in these facilities, LEA in which students were enrolled are responsible for ensuring that students are receiving a high-quality education. For example, for students with individualized education plans (IEPs), the LEA is responsible for working with their treatment center to meet legal requirements of the IEP. Furthermore, LEAs allocate funding to these schools when the student’s circumstances meet specific qualifications

TDOE notes that often, decisions to place students in residential facilities are made quickly by physicians and parents, within the family’s health insurance restraints, and without communication with the LEA or the DOE. As a result, it is challenging for these stakeholders to get involved after students have been admitted. However, as noted by Board Member Nate Morrow, for students that are already in particularly vulnerable situations, such as students in the foster system or without insurance, it is important to ensure that there are safeguards and advocates to protect them. The Education Trust in Tennessee is committed to the social-emotional and academic development of all students, and believes that rule-making regarding mental health facilities and LEA should protect underserved students in these facilities. 

Equity Considerations:

  • The new requirement that LEAs report any incidents that result in restraint and isolation for a student with disabilities is a step in the right direction, and serves to help protect some of our most vulnerable students. How can this policy be expanded to include other forms of discipline and more populations of students across the state of Tennessee?
  • How will the TDOE state ensure that there is adequate funding for LEAs to offer camps and tutors for 3rd grade students who are at risk of retention in 2022-2023? Will the department provide guidance to LEAs on the prioritization of students if funding is not adequate to cover the costs of camps and tutors? In light of current TDOE guidance that references students with disabilities, how can we ensure that these students are not impacted by this policy?
  • Now that all students have more equal access to textbooks and materials that will better prepare them for college coursework, how can TDOE ensure that secondary teachers get ongoing preparation and support to successfully teach college-level material?
  • In order to retain teachers, how can teacher vacancy data, as well as data related to the additional responsibilities that teachers take on, be used to compensate teachers and support districts in other long-term strategies to teacher retention?
  • How can the state and LEAs ensure that student interest is prioritized in light of multiple actors, such as  case workers, physicians, staff in districts and treatment facilities, as well as  insurance companies, that influence the quality of care that students get? How are LEAs and treatment facilities being supported and encouraged to collaborate to make sure students are successful in these settings?