State Rep. Gloria Johnson alleges state commissioner of educatio

State Rep. Gloria Johnson alleges state commissioner of education may have violated law over TCAP waiver

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Kevin Huffman (source: State of Tennessee) Kevin Huffman (source: State of Tennessee)
State Rep. Gloria Johnson State Rep. Gloria Johnson
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A local state representative alleges the Tennessee commissioner of education may have broken the law when he granted waivers to schools after the delay in TCAP scores.

State law requires TCAP scores be included in a student's final grade, but last month the "quick scores" were delayed because the Department of Education needed more time to review the data. Schools were faced with a dilemma. Without the scores, they were unable to issue report cards for the end of the year.

Previous story: Knox County report cards delayed, TCAP scores won't factor in final grades

More than 100 schools statewide requested a waiver, and the DOE granted the waiver to not include the TCAP scores in the final grade. The granting of that waiver led State Representative Gloria Johnson  (D-Knoxville) to question whether Commissioner Kevin Huffman overstepped his role.

The question stems from a bill passed this year that gives public schools the same opportunities as charter schools to request waivers from the commissioner of education.

House Bill 1799 passed unanimously and went into effect in April. It gives the commissioner of education the ability to “waive any state board rule or statute that inhibits or hinders the [local education authority]’s ability to meet its goals or comply with its mission.” But it also says the commissioner cannot waive statutory requirements related “federal and state student assessment and accountability,” among other items.

More details: Read House Bill 1799 [PDF]

“It seems pretty clear to me,” state representative Gloria Johnson said.

She said because including TCAPs in students’ final grades is a statutory requirement, waiving the scores violated the law.

“My concern is if the governor is not going to hold Kevin Huffman available than the legislature needs to, we need to have hearings. They require such a high level of accountability form teachers and students, yet it’s not required in Nashville? I think he has to stand up to accountability as well and we need to hold him accountable and it looks to me like he is in violation of the law,” Rep. Johnson said.

But the bills co-sponsor Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) doesn’t read it that way. 

“What was waived was the aspect of letting it be a part of the grade, didn’t change the assessment at all, didn’t change the need for the assessment or any of the accountability,” Brooks said.

6 News also reached out to several of the other bill sponsors, Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Rep. Art Swann (R-Maryville). None of the republican legislators believed Huffman violated the law.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) is on the House Education Committee and there were specific circumstances with this case. It would have cost thousands of dollars for teachers to have to come back in and recalculate scores.

He said Huffman should probably have phrased it differently, not calling it a waiver, but instead perhaps telling schools they would not be punished for not including the scores.

Rep. Johnson says the State Attorney General’s office has been contacted to issue an opinion.

We reached out to Commissioner Huffman as well. Spokesperson Kelli Gauthier responded with this statement: The commissioner does have the authority to wave the inclusion of TCAP scores in student grades. The limits of the waiver apply solely to students taking the assessments, and to the associated federal and state accountability.”

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