The additional academic challenges for students under the Common Core State Standards are designed to better prepare students for college or for a career than previous state standards, supporters say.
Jared Bigham, State Collaborative on Reforming Education director for college and career readiness, said it became obvious that change was needed when students who had passed coursework with scores saying they were proficient in the subject were doing poorly when they took the ACT.
“It’s not just about scoring better on national assessments. … But it’s about having critical thinking skills and having aptitudes that if you are looking at (the) ‘college ready,’ (track) you don’t have to take remedial classes,’’ Bigham said.
The same aspects of the standards that prepare college-bound students will also help those going into a tech school or straight into a career.
“It’s not just about making students college ready. It’s about making them ready to go to tech school, it’s getting them ready for certification programs like Volkswagen has. A lot of people don’t realize you have to have a 19 on the ACT just to get into Volkswagen,” Bigham said.
The standards will also address what some have called a disconnect between what is taught in the classroom and what employers need.
“When you talk about the career ready side of it, in Tennessee 7 of the 10 fastest growing jobs are in industrial manufacturing or some kind of tech industry,” Bigham said
Many business leaders have already expressed support for the new standards.
“I hear great enthusiasm from the business community around the state,” Bigham said. “There are many jobs in Tennessee that we simply cannot fill because the skilled workforce is not there.”
“There are some tech jobs in Tennessee right now that for every one applicant there are two openings,” Bigham added.
SCORE has compared the Common Core Standards with the top 10 qualities that employers said they are looking for in employees.
Bigham said English arts standards prepare students to professionally communicate both verbally and in writing.
According to SCORE information, “Tennessee’s graduates will be able to write technical and informative reports, as well as present key ideas in front of an audience.”
The new standards will also help students develop critical thinking skills; learn problem solving; learn to be adaptable to new tasks; improve reasoning ability; use data to make decisions; and engage in productive discussions.
Student use of technology is weaved into various subjects throughout the standards.
“With these online assessments, we have to start preparing students at an earlier age. It order to do well they have to be able to type. They have to be able to use a mouse to drag and drop … because when we do these online assessments, if they are not affluent in computer skills it winds up being a test about how proficient they are using a computer versus the content,” Bigham said.
Bigham said for both math standards and English language arts, students will be taught how to evaluate their own performance. In math, this will be through explaining how they solved a problem. In English language arts, it will be through peer review.
“That was a component that a lot of businesspeople thought their employees couldn’t do ... evaluate their own production — how they were doing as an employee,” Bigham said.
He said the technical writing components of the English language arts standards will also help students find areas of their writing that need strengthening.
Common Core will not change the current standards for career and technical classes. However, it encourages collaboration between core classes teachers and CTE teachers to provide integrated learning.
“We’ve talked about this for years, where you are teaching across the curriculum,” Bigham said. “Common Core really does that.”
“People tend to look at Common Core as this academic path for students who are headed to college. I’m an advocate for that, [but] it is suited almost better for students going into the job field right out of high school or into the career and technical fields because of the critical thinking skills and problem solving,” Bigham said.
Although the CTE standards are not changing, CTE teachers are receiving training on how to follow Common Core teaching practices. These practices encourage more interaction between teachers and students about the information being covered.
End-of-course testing will also be changing to an Internet-based assessment. The Tennessee Board of Education chose the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment to be used.
“It’s a more authentic assessment of true student learning,” Bigham said.
He said the new assessment means students can no longer guess the correct answer, as they could on multiple-choice questions.
“It will be challenging at first, because anything that’s new is going to be challenging, but I think Tennessee has done a great job of preparing teachers, administrators and students for that type of format of test,” Bigham said.
“Ongoing professional development” for teachers will also be a challenging aspect of the new standards.
“With these instructions practices, you can’t really do a ‘one-and-done’ type training … it really has to be ongoing throughout the year,” Bigham said.
The state has adopted new standards for social studies, but they are not Common Core standards.