Three House Democrats are hitting up the Department of Education for records shedding light on the internal decision making that led to a delay in the release of preliminary student test scores last week.
Nashville Democrats Bo Mitchell and Mike Stewart joined with Knoxville Democrat Gloria Johnson in filing an open records request seeking emails and documents relating to the delay, TCAP results, how the data was processed, what test questions the department omitted and how the story was picked up by the media.
“It seems improbable that your Department was simply unaware that such an unprecedented delay would be warranted until the very day that the scores were to be revealed,” read a letter from the three lawmakers.
The department put superintendents on notice last week that third through eighth grade students' test scores would not be ready on time for teachers to factor into final grades, as required by state law. The department then decided to issue waivers to school districts wanting to omit the test scores instead of revising report cards or returning teachers to school during summer break. Gov. Bill Haslam said he backed the department’s decision to wait on scores despite criticism for the delay.
Two of the three Democrats pushing for the public records — Mitchell and Johnson — are facing targeted opposition from Republicans in this November's general election.
While critics charge the state’s education chief should be held accountable for a delay releasing test scores, Gov. Bill Haslam said there’s little for the state to regret.
“What you have to remember is this decision was driven by the fact that we, with new Common Core standards, we have additional responsibility to make sure the test is accurate,” the governor told reporters Wednesday.
“An outside technical committee advised us to delay until they could make certain that all the equating happened in an accurate way. It would have been easier to send those out on time but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. So I think we made the accountable decision in this case,” he said.
Critics of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman have used the delay to reignite calls for his resignation. News the state would deliver scores late as most schools release students and teachers for the summer has resulted in 104 school districts getting permission from the department to opt out of legal requirements they factor students’ test scores into their final grades. The scores will still be used later as a factor in teacher evaluations.
That’s an “unfortunate consequence of a hard decision that the Department of Education had to make,” the governor said. “If you’re going to err, you’re going to err on the side of getting it right and taking a little longer.”
It's fair to ask whether the Department of Education could have forseen a delay sending schools their students' TCAP scores sooner, said Gov. Bill Haslam, but he argues he thinks the state acted as soon as it could.