Tennessee Republicans Call For Dismissal of Education Commissioner

Fifteen Tennessee Republican legislators are asking for the immediate dismissal of the state’s Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

In a letter sent to Governor Bill Haslam, the group mentions complaints by teachers and students concerning Huffman, claiming a “complete lack of trust”.

“Commissioner Huffman has overstepped his authority and failed to serve in the best interest of the citizens of this state,” the letter said. “Anything short of his immediate removal will be unacceptable.”

Haslam has ignored the letter, claiming it is a political stunt to further their efforts in delaying the Common Core standards and related testing, as reported by Joey Garrison of The Tennessean.

“Education is one of the most serious issues for the future of our state, and the governor believes there is a more productive way to discuss something so significant than through a letter by a small group of legislators more interested in trying to get headlines than substance,” he [press secretary Dave Smith] said.

The letter continues to mention an earlier situation where Huffman was accused of manipulating state test scores.

The scores of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) exams were delayed by four days this year.  Huffman attributed this to a process called “post-equating”, a process of comparing test scores under new standards to last year’s  tandards.  He claims this was necessary as portions of last year’s test were eliminated in order to follow the Common Core standards.

According to the Associated Press, the Republicans who wrote the letter believe he was concealing low test scores by deleting questions to alter the results.

“We feel a great source of that mistrust comes from the actions and general attitude of Commissioner Kevin Huffman and that is why we, the Tennessee legislators below, demand the immediate resignation of Commissioner Kevin Huffman for misguided leadership, dereliction of duty, and for failing to uphold and follow the laws of the state of Tennessee in this latest TCAP debacle we are currently witnessing.”

Huffman further contributed to the TCAP debacle by issuing waivers to school districts, which allowed them to not include the scores as part of students’ total grades, writes David Cook of The Times Free Press.  However, state law requires the tests account for 15-25% of students’ final grades in grades 3-8.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education responded to the waiver claims by saying:

“The commissioner does have the authority to wave the inclusion of TCAP scores in student grades. The limits of the waiver apply solely to students taking the assessments, and to the associated federal and state accountability,”

The letter comes shortly after a petition signed by half of Tennessee’s superintendents, siting low teacher morale due to Huffman’s inability to lead. It stated that Huffman refused to have a dialogue with school leaders, thereby not allowing for school improvements.

Teresa Wasson for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, says quite the opposite.

“We are raising expectations in our classrooms, better supporting our educators, and prioritizing college and career readiness,”