TN Education Commissioner used pre-pandemic report to gauge “significant learning loss”

(WTVC) – Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn cited Spring learning loss projections on national, months-old research, rather than up-to-date testing from Tennessee students.

There’s no question, educators are still navigating learning curves after the pandemic forced kids out of the classroom in the Spring.

However, NewsChannel 9 found out state leaders cited pre-pandemic data, not recent Fall 2020 tests from Tennessee students to categorize what she called a “significant learning loss” during a press conference last week.

Lawmakers grilled Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn during a series of hearing on schools re-opening.

At a press conference with Governor Bill Lee last week, Commissioner Schwinn said “preliminary projections” reflected there was an estimated 50 percent decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd grade reading and a projected 65 percent decrease in proficiency in math.

On Friday, Hamilton County Schools Spokesperson Tim Hensley said the student’s data from district was not included in the learning loss report.

We reached out to the state to ask for the specific data Schwinn was citing. Victoria Robinson, who is the Director of Media for the Tennessee Department of Education, responded saying the report was based on collaborative research from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and the Center for Research on Education and Outcomes (CREDO).

Both NWEA and CREDO are national research and assessment organizations.

That study was released in April 2020, several months before the students returned to the classroom. The spokesperson also sent Newschannel 9 a copy of the September 2020 CREDO study, focusing on Tennessee and using historical Tennessee TCAP and NWEA data, but did not say how or if it figured in to Schwinn’s projection of learning loss.

Hensley said Superintendent Bryan Johnson was not available for the unplanned conference call with superintendents on Friday after Schwinn announced those projections. But Chalkbeat Tennessee, a non-profit news organization that reports on education in the state, quoted Schwinn from that call as saying

 “These are estimated predictions. They certainly do not reflect every district in every part of the state. Many of our students have done exceptionally well, especially those in high-performing bands.”

Chalkbeat also reported some Superintendents were frustrated about how the numbers were framed.

“This is about doing your homework,” Leah Watkins, superintendent of Henry County Schools in West Tennessee told Chalkbeat. “Before the state releases numbers to millions of Tennesseans, let’s make sure it’s accurate and shared with appropriate context.”

A Hamilton County Schools spokesperson said the district “is always concerned about learning loss when children are out of school for extended periods of time without access to a teacher and instruction. The district anticipated learning loss as we reviewed theNWEA COVID-19 Slide study when it was released in April. That is why we worked with our Reopening Taskforce to develop a plan that prioritized student academic progress along with health and safety.” He referenced the summer REACH program as one way the county combatted learning loss from the pandemic.

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