Cochran: ‘Unique times’ led to necessity of waiving testing, attendance requirements

As all local schools have closed at least through April 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic, concerns have been raised about both standardized testing and if missed days will need to be made up in the summer.

A bill is currently working its way through the Tennessee state government to answer those questions.

State Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) cosponsored House Bill 2818 to waive the requirements of testing and 180 days of attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Cochran, the bill was specifically written to cover the events of COVID-19 and any future situations would require their own set of legislation.

“It is very unique times and I believe this was necessary,” said Cochran. “I am glad that we were all able to work together to get this accomplished.”

Work on the bill was one of Cochran’s top priorities last week as a member of House leadership.

“I was in on the negotiations and went through several drafts,” said Cochran.

He stated there were some concerns that arose during the initial draft that the bill was not “specific enough” for Pre-K and Kindergarten portfolios.

“The initial language of the bill said that a Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher shall not be evaluated using the portfolio system unless the scores benefit them,” said Cochran. “That was the intent of the legislation … It just did not read clearly enough, so the language that we added was a specific sentence that said portfolios or other alternative growth models are not required by the State of Tennessee.”

This would allow the local school system to decide whether or not they wish to conduct any testing, should the schools resume session soon, without the students being mandated to do so by the state.

“We wanted to leave local control there in case they did (resume school) and decided that they wanted to do some benchmarks and see where they are with that test,” said Cochran. “Even if they decide to do that it cannot hurt them in any way.”

Cochran noted that during discussions, he discovered another issue that would be added to the amendment as well.

“I made an amendment (for the portfolios) and before I introduced that amendment I spoke with Rep. Jason Zachary, from Farragut, and the State Board of Education and we discovered that we also needed some language to make sure that our student teachers were covered,” said Cochran. “The state board said that we needed to make sure that we’ve got the flexibility to waive some of those requirements for student teachers and so I put that in my amendment as well.”

He noted that he hopes that the bill will give students and teachers “nothing to worry about” from anything missed due to the response of COVID-19.

He believes the ideal scenario would be for the virus to trail off and allow the schools to continue.

“You want students and teachers to be interacting and in the classroom as much as they possibly can,” said Cochran. “But I think these measures were necessary given the circumstances.”

He stated that anything the students miss this year will be made up in the next school year.

“I think our teachers are very capable of doing that,” said Cochran. “I will certainly continue to fight to make sure that the Department of Education continues to give flexibility as we recover from the absence in the classroom because that is something that might take more than just one year.”

He doesn’t want teachers or students to have to worry about meeting certain requirements due to their absence.

“I want it to be clear from the State of Tennessee that we are not asking for these tests this year,” said Cochran. “My hope is that the response to pandemic ends quickly and maybe we can get our students back in (schools) before the end of the year but, if that occurs, I don’t want them to worry about tests, portfolios or other assessments. Let’s just teach our students and we will try it again next year.”

The bill has passed both houses of the General Assembly unanimously and was signed by the speaker of the House on Friday.

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