A late-September letter from the Federal Department of Education (DOE) to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) threatened to pull TDOE’s federal funding over what the federal government describes as failure to comply with federal assessment reporting standards in 2021.

“The assessment and accountability compliance issues are significant because they not only impact the State’s ability to provide clear and transparent information to the public about school performance, but also result in the State using information that is not comparable across schools in TDOE’s statewide accountability system,” said the letter addressed to Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Peggy Schwinn.

“As a result, I am placing a condition on TDOE’s Title I, Part A grant award until such time as these issues are fully resolved. In order to remove this condition, TDOE must address the items as described below,” the letter continues. “If TDOE fails to meet these requirements, the Department may take additional enforcement action.”

The letter was signed by James F. Lane, Senior Advisor to the Office of the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.

The federal government alleges that the state may be in violation of Title I, Part A (Title I) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), which says that “each statewide assessment a State administers for Title I purposes must be administered to all students in the State.”

The letter further alleges that in several subjects, including mathematics and reading/language arts, those assessments were incomplete.

“In the Performance Review, TDOE was not able to demonstrate that its approach of basing participation rate calculations on student enrollment in courses aligned to its high school assessments includes all students for each of the end-of-course assessments,” according to the federal government.

The federal DOE also accused the TDOE of using SAT and ACT scores in place of federally mandated assessments in certain subjects.

The federal government also contends that it sent its complaints to TDOE in November of 2021, but that the state did not adequately respond. It gives TDOE a deadline of December of this year to meet its demands for updated reporting that is compliant with its standards.

“I believe in transparency in government,” J.C. Bowman, head of Professional Educators of Tennessee, told Star News Network Editor-in-Chief and CEO Michael Patrick Leahy Thursday on Leahy’s radio show, The Tennessee Star Report. “I believe that we should see what’s going on, we should be made aware of it, and everything else. These things came out last year – I mean in September of 2021 the feds sent a letter – a document, a report – saying ‘you’ve got some problems.'”

“Here’s where we’re at,” said Bowman. “Either you’ve got some real gross incompetence at the Tennessee Department of Education, in which case, if that’s the case, our governor needs to step in and he needs to explain this – not the commissioner [Schwinn], our governor does.”

Bowman said that if the federal government is overreaching, it should be put in its place.

“We should tell the federal government, ‘Listen, we disagree with you. We don’t think that special ed students need to be taking the regular assessment test,'” he said. “That’s one of the things in there.”

Bowman also said that if TDOE does not comply with the federal government’s request, it is possible that the federal government could fine TDOE, and take back the money that was granted to the state.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].