Senate Provides for State Sovereignty in Education


In major K-12 education action this week, the Senate adopted a Conference Committee report to ensure Tennessee maintains sovereignty over how students are educated. The Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act states the federal government has no constitutional right to set educational standards and any partnership is totally at the discretion of the state. The bill further states that state and local authorities have exclusive rights to set education standards and that data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking academic progress and the needs of the student.

Senate Bill 1835, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), specifies that Tennessee “shall not adopt common core state standards in any subject matter beyond math and English language arts.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are standards to measure student progress that were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The state began phasing in state common core standards in English language arts and math in 2011, with full implementation of these subjects in the current 2013-14 school year. This legislation helps ensure that state common core standards will not be implemented in science and social studies. In addition, it provides that the state’s Board of Education cannot join a testing consortium that requires the adoption of common standards in social studies or science without full notice to the public and the General Assembly at least 60 days prior.

The bill delays implementation of a new assessment to replace the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test for K-12 students for one year. Tennessee students were scheduled to be assessed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which aligns with Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards, next spring. The legislation instead calls for solicitation of proposals for a new assessment system through a competitive bidding process with review of the contract awarded by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee. The new assessment system awarded the contract will be field tested prior to the 2015-2016 school year, when it will replace the existing examinations in the subjects of English language arts and math.

Parents are given greater access to information under the legislation, including the right to review data collected on their child. It also requires consent by a parent before any biometric data can be collected on a student and forbids the state from conducting an assessment or applying for a grant that violates this requirement. Similarly, the bill protects the identifying information of teachers regarding their personal evaluation scores.

To provide greater public transparency, the state’s Board of Education must publish a list of all data elements collected under the bill along with the purpose or reason for collecting them. It requires that proposed changes to any state educational standard shall be posted for public review on the State Board of Education’s website and submitted to the Education Committee of the House and the Senate at least 60 days prior to consideration.