VOL. 130 | NO. 66 | Monday, April 6, 2015
High, Stable Standards Will Help Students Succeed
JASON LITTLE and GARY SHORB | Special to The Daily News
Successful business leaders always have their eye on the bottom line. And when it comes to how we are preparing our students for the 21st century workforce, the bottom line is this: Americans are falling behind.
Research by the Education Testing Service based on data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies found that more than half of U.S. millennials lack proficiency when it comes to applying their reading and math skills in the workplace.
What that means is that even young adults who got good grades in school, excelled in the classroom and performed well on standardized tests have trouble translating that learning into critical thinking and problem solving on the job. Their ability to get and keep a good job is diminished, and that’s bad for them and for business.
Sobering statistics like these are one of the reasons that Tennessee business leaders support Tennessee’s State Standards and updated assessments for K-12 students. The standards are designed specifically to emphasize the real-world skills our young workforce is lacking – encouraging critical thinking instead of memorization, and rewarding problem solving, not just picking the correct answer from multiple choices.
These standards – and the aligned assessments that measure students’ progress – are exactly what we need in classrooms if we want the next generation of young Tennessee workers to buck the current trend and become globally competitive.
As board members of the Tennessee Business Roundtable, we work with business leaders from the industries that are driving the future of our state’s economy: health care, telecom, engineering and more. These industries are also creating the highest demand for workers equipped with 21st century skills.
Members of the Roundtable know that when it comes to our schools, every decision we make can affect an entire generation of learners – who will one day make up our state’s workforce. That’s why we are urging our state lawmakers to hold off on any changes to standards and assessments during this legislative session.
Tennessee’s teachers are using the standards to help students learn the skills we need in the Tennessee workforce.
For teachers, the introduction of new standards four years ago has meant creating new lesson plans and reshaping classroom instruction. For students, it has meant using a different kind of thinking and learning how to articulate solutions to problems. It’s hard work, and the best thing we can do is give them some time without upheaval to finish adjusting to the standards and take the new assessments to chart their progress.
We’ve already seen signals that what Tennessee is doing is working. In 2013, Tennessee became the fastest-improving state in the country in terms of student achievement, and we’ve become a national model for our implementation of student-focused changes. Making changes to the standards this year threatens to derail the progress we’ve made and undermine the hard work by our educators, school leaders and students.
A big majority of our state’s superintendents have expressed support for leaving the standards unchanged this year. Community college presidents are speaking up as well. Tennessee’s top business leaders are joining the chorus, because they are convinced that using these new standards in classrooms today will translate to a competent, competitive workforce tomorrow.
The future of our state’s economy and our country’s role in the global marketplace depend on what our policymakers choose to do during this session. We urge them to oppose changes the standards while we are still gathering public input through the online review process and to support pushing ahead with the TNReady assessment next year.
We must work together to make sure we’re equipping our students for college, careers and life. Teaching our students real-world skills from kindergarten to high school graduation is essential to our state’s future prosperity – that’s the bottom line.
Jason Little is president and CEO of Baptist Memorial Care Corp. Gary Shorb is CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. Both serve on the board of directors of the Tennessee Business Roundtable.