Tennessee Board of Education clarifies graduation requirements

Rick Wagner • Apr 9, 2020 at 7:47 PM

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Board of Education has approved a series of changes in pre-K-12 education because of the novel coronavirus pandemic that shut down schools. Those changes include a reduction in the number of high school credits required to graduate and a freeze of high school seniors’ grades at no lower than they were March 20.

In unanimous votes, the nine-member board approved changes including a reduction in the number of required credits from 22 to 20. Those credits must include four math, four English/language arts, three science and two social studies credits. In addition, the board formally adopted temporary changes waiving the requirement to take the ACT and SAT tests to graduate.

Another change would remove a requirement that students pass a comprehensive exam for advanced classes including Advanced Placement and dual credit classes in order to get weighted credit, putting students statewide on the same playing field going into college.

The changes were announced Thursday during a statewide teleconference.  

“We’re kind of unpacking all that,” Kingsport Assistant Superintendent Andy True said. 

Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said the most urgent issues involved students poised to graduate.

“I’m appreciative that the state board followed the actions that they did, especially for the graduating seniors,” Cox said. “We don’t know at this point if students will be back this school year.”

Schools are out until the end of April at least, and Gov. Bill Lee and Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn did not address extending the closings in a separate COVID-19 update by Lee Thursday afternoon.

The actions the board approved Thursday put into effect Public Chapter 652 as approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. After approval by the attorney general, they will be put into place by the secretary of state.

“They are demonstrating creativity and flexibility for local education agencies in light of the extreme circumstances, which have effectively severed our last quarter of education for the year. This flexibility really helps our seniors, one of our biggest concerns,” Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson said.

“While I would ultimately like and appreciate a consistent statewide approach to school closure decisions, I do want to express my thanks to the Department of Education’s support for creatively looking at rules and regulations that needed to be adjusted in light of the closures.” 

The board voted to freeze senior grades where they were March 20, when Lee in effect closed schools statewide. The change leaves the option open for students to improve their grade if their local school district can provide and they can access materials online or through some form of distance learning. Cox said that is an issue across the state, especially in rural areas. As it stands now, the remote learning can only improve, not lower, a grade.

The changes, good for 180 days, also allow no students to be counted absent or truant, a reflection that some students have no access to the internet for online instruction. 

Some changes to licensing procedures give teachers an extra year, until the end of August 2021, to complete requirements and also extend the deadline for teachers whose licensing was expiring this year. Teacher evaluations will not be done this school year.

Staff Writer Jeff Bobo contributed to this article.

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