Common Core in Tennessee: Where Do We Go From Here?

by Bethany Bowman The national non-profit GreatSchools points out that out of 57 countries tested globally the United States scored 17th in Science and 24th in Math.  The percentage of 3rd grade students that score at or above proficient on the TCAP reading/language arts assessment is 46.5%. And only 44.8% of 7th grade students score [...]

by Bethany Bowman

The national non-profit GreatSchools points out that out of 57 countries tested globally the United States scored 17th in Science and 24th in Math.  The percentage of 3rd grade students that score at or above proficient on the TCAP reading/language arts assessment is 46.5%. And only 44.8% of 7th grade students score at or above proficient on the TCAP mathematics assessment.  In 2012, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count ranked Tennessee 42nd out of 50 states in education.

As an education leader, as well as a parent, grandparent and former teacher, these statistics are unacceptable.  Evidently, many other parents, educators and legislators have the same opinion.  Not only are we questioning the cause, we also want to find a solution to make Tennessee’s education system a model for the nation.

David Coleman, a key author of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), believes they have provided part of the solution.  On the Common Core State Standards Initiative website it states: “the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

The CCSS strategy includes fewer standards with more depth and rigor than what many states produced previously.

Currently, 45 states have adopted some form of the CCSS, and $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant money has been awarded to 12 states, of which Tennessee received $501 million.  Educators and policymakers are working toward reversing the discouraging statistics.  Common Core State Standards may transform the central features of modern schooling in Tennessee including changes in curriculum, teaching, testing, and accountability.  We want to ensure by the federal government’s superfluous involvement in education that we do not lose state governance and local control of education in the process.  It is a legitimate concern worthy of debate.

However, two points must be raised in the discussion: 1) Tennessee started receiving their Race to the Top Funding in 2010.  Accountability for these funds was part of the condition of the reward resulting in more stringent evaluation for teachers and students.  2) Those who oppose Common Core State Standards have not provided a viable alternative.   Based on the prevailing data, efforts in the past have simply not provided an engaging and challenging education.  We must all work toward building an education system that allows each child to achieve his or her potential and prepares students to succeed in our 21st Century economy.

Recently in Chicago, leading educators from Tennessee, along with 10 other states, met to discuss what is working and concerns with CCSS.  PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and SBAC (SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium) are in the process of developing online testing.  They are set to unveil their systems in 2013-2014 and go live in 2014-2015. Tennessee educators seemingly are in agreement trying to implement the CCSS and PARCC assessment system.  Tennessee is training teachers to use the CCSS as written, and we are not doing a combination of existing state standards and CCSS like some other states are attempting.

Consistency in message is one of the advantages Tennessee educators share.   However, one drawback in implementing the PARCC assessment system in Tennessee is infrastructure.  Not only must schools have up-to-date computers and operating systems, they must have adequate bandwidth to accommodate these computers.  Additionally, an iPad or other tablet alone won’t work for PARCC testing. Keyboard usage is mandatory with the PARCC system.  The Tennessee Department of Education is aware of these issues and is working to address the problem.  The success of the CCSS in the state of Tennessee depends on it being successfully implemented.  Adequate teacher and principal training is critical.

Our organization is providing Common Core professional development, featuring state and national experts at LeaderU on June 22, 2013.  We are making the event open to all Tennessee teachers and administrators, who can receive 6 credits from the Tennessee Academy for School Leaders (TASL) for attending the annual conference.

The debate on the CCSS will continue.  Only time will prove its real efficacy.  As Knoxville’s L&N STEM Academy Assistant Principal Tim Childers so aptly said, “If you teach a child how to problem solve, it really won’t matter what kind of standards you have or the type of test you give. They will succeed.”

Bethany Bowman is the director of professional development for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee.

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