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VOL. 128 | NO. 126 | Friday, June 28, 2013

Higher Standards

‘Common Core’ occupies area teachers’ summer

By Bill Dries

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For area teachers, the move to the school year ahead began around spring break.

First grade Core Coach Joyce Harrison works with educators Stephanie Johnson and Sharon Norman during a summer training session for Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards.  

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

And for many teachers in both of the county’s public school systems, the merger wasn’t the central source of their anxiety. It was the coming of the state’s Common Core standards.

In a local education environment that includes a historic merger starting next week, Tennessee achievement test results released Thursday and a transition from No Child Left Behind standards to Common Core standards, the school year has started early.

This month, a group of 32,000 teachers statewide undertook two weeks of training in the Common Core standards for kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics.

Common Core is a new, more rigorous set of standards for student performance in Tennessee public schools. It is the latest step away from what were much lower standards before the 2009 Tennessee Diploma Project legislation that began to raise standards.

Common Core is part of the state’s departure from Bush-era No Child Left Behind standards and its roll out has been gradual starting with kindergarten through the second grade training two years ago and summer training in mathematics last year for grades 3-8.

“Some of the standards were being implemented in elementary and middle school math last year,” said Kelli Gauthier, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Education. “We anticipate this year we will have implementation across the board in high school math and English as well as K-8 reading and math.”

Ridgeway, Bartlett and Southwind high schools were the sites in Shelby County this month for what is the largest teacher training effort in state history.

“It’s sort of our continuing efforts to support teachers through this transition,” Gauthier said. “It is something we’ve offered to districts and teachers free of charge.”

Last year, the state trained 12,000 to 13,000 teachers across the state in math standards for grades 3-8. And training in English language arts and literacy is slated across the state for the first three weeks of July.

The sessions are content heavy with teachers working together on the content and their approach to it.

With the new standards, there is also a shift in how student progress toward those standards is measured.

Facilitator Lawanda Longstreet watches a presentation by Paula Brown, Sarah DeLapa and Leigh Richardson on one of the Tennessee Common Core State standards. 

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test results announced Thursday, June 27, in Nashville have one more school year as the only measurement of student performance.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the state begins using a new test called PARCC – Partnership For Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

“PARCC will replace just the English and math portions of TCAP,” Gauthier said. “Science, social studies and history will all remain TCAP.”

PARCC was developed and designed with a $186 million grant as part of the federal Race to the Top program. The Partnership in the title refers to the collaboration of educators in 22 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands to develop the assessments in English and math.

The partnership’s website, www.parcconline.org, states the goal of the testing as a way to mark the progress of students starting in the third grade “and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support.”

Tennessee has been a leading partner in Race to the Top as one of the first two states to be awarded the federal funding for state reform initiatives. The reforms in Tennessee have spanned the administration of two governors, from Democrat Phil Bredesen to Republican Bill Haslam.

The reforms have included an emphasis on a more rapid use and evaluation of student performance data during the same school year in which a student takes the tests. The idea is to intervene quickly and provide more instruction for the students behind to catch up in that school year.

As teachers in the countywide school system were getting familiar with Common Core standards, the schools merger was moving into school-by-school preparations for the first day of classes Aug. 5.

Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson set that as his next goal during a week in which a 26 percent or $18 million cut in the merged school district’s central office was carried out.

An estimated 300 people in the combined central office were to be laid off Friday, June 28, as their last day on the job. Some were notified during the week and packed up their belongings to leave that day. Some of the 300 may take jobs as teachers or administrators at individual schools, Hopson said.

The decisions on who to keep and who to let go were made after a series of interviews in which those in central office roles with both school systems applied for jobs in the new school system.

Those interviewing the applicants were interviewed by others for different jobs, and Hopson said some of them would most likely be among those losing their jobs. Speaking to the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday, Hopson called it “a very real human toll” and “devastating.”

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