The Bradley County Commission Education Committee members will be studying Common Core State Standards during the next two weeks in preparation for a meeting to discuss whether the Commission should take a stance in the standards debate.
Commissioner Terry Caywood had asked the Commission to consider such a resolution after learning his elementary school grandchild was being asked to complete a 12-page test.
During an education committee meeting Monday, members heard from Jared Bingham of SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) in favor of Common Core standards and Karen Bracken of Tennessee Against Common Core. Both gave 10 minute presentations on the new standards.
“It is characteristic of this Commission to occasionally choose to communicate on behalf of our constituents to our state Legislature in matters they are taking up in the state legislative body,” committee chairman J. Adam Lowe said, explaining why the Commission would be discussing the issue.
He said the main concern the Commis-sion has is the funding needed to implement some aspects of the switch to Common Core, such as the fully electronic end-of-course testing. Estimates for implementation have come in at $16 million, according to Bracken.
Motions made by Jeff Yarber for a recommendation against Common Core did not receive a second and were not voted upon.
Committee member Jeff Morelock said he did not know enough yet about Common Core to make a decision on a recommendation.
Committee member Bill Winters proposed postponing an official recommendation until committee members could study the issue further.
The committee plans to meet sometime after Oct. 14. The timeline was chosen to ensure the members are able to review more information.
Yarber also expressed concern that Race to the Top funds received would not cover the full amount needed for implementation of the online assessment.
Winters said he had heard from teachers that the amount of testing required was limiting teacher creativity.
Tennessee switch to Common Core State Standards started with the realization that state standards were not adequately preparing students for college.
“In 2009, Tennessee was given an ‘F’ in truth in advertising by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” Bingham said.
He explained the Tennessee standards had been such that a student could get half the answers wrong on a 100 question test and still pass.
While a student may graduate from high school at a proficient level under these standards, some said it became evident that they were not academically ready for college-level work. Tennessee began the Tennessee Diploma Project to require more science and math credits for high school graduation.
Bingham said the goal of the Common Core standards is to give students “a thinking mindset” to be ready and able to adopt for success in college and their careers.
“I agree that Tennessee was in gruesome shape, but I disagree that Common Core was the answer and a way to fix the problem,” Bracken said.
The standards have been implemented gradually over the past three years. Because they move away from simple memorization they require a different type of teaching than the standards being replaced.
“Teachers are promoting problem solving a lot more, so the instruction looks different,” Bingham said.
Bingham said the federal department of education did not develop Common Core.
He said old standards were about memorization, while Common Core State Standards are about getting students to think to the point where they can analyze and interprete information.
“We are going from about 100 standards in each grade level to about 30 or 40 in each grade level,” Bingham said. “It gives teachers the opportunity to go much more in depth with the content, and it is what I call a thinking set of standards.”
Common Core sets a low bar defining “college ready” as passing Algebra 2, according to Bracken.
Bingham said the standards “were a floor, not the ceiling.”
Bracken said the standards are a way to take the power to make decisions about education away from local school boards and state boards.
The presentors disagreed about the role the federal grant program Race to the Top had in Tennessee’s adoption of Common Core.
Bingham said states applying for the grants were required to adopt more rigorous standards, but Common Core was not specifically mentioned.
Responding to discussion about specific requirements, such as the standards being nationally benchmarked, Bracken said the CCSS has not been internationally benchmarked.
She said when Massachusetts first applied and did not commit to adopting new standards, that state was not awarded funds. Yet, when it reapplied later and committed to adopting new standards it received funding.
Bingham called the state standards a “minimum benchmark of learning at each grade level.” The SCORE representative illustrated this point by explaining that even though Common Core only gives requirements for math through Algebra 2, Tennessee requires students to take four math credits in high school, meaning they will take higher-level math.
Bracken expressed other concerns about the standards.
Many have said CCSS are needed for United States students to stay competitive in a global economy, according to Bracken. She said test scores are not a good way to determine if a person is ready for a job.
Parental consent is no longer needed to share information about a student, according to Bracken.
She said the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment, the electronic testing adopted in Tennessee, will collect data on students and give it to the federal government. One federal education data model collects more than 400 different pieces of information on a student, Bracken claims.
Yarber expressed concern for students going through the transition and about the teaching practices.
“I believe you can’t teach every student the same way,” Yarber said.
Bingham agreed, saying the standards give teachers flexibility to teach students the way they learn best.
Common Core has not affected other recent changes in public education in Tennessee.
Bingham said it is important to realize Common Core is a separate piece of education reform and is not related to the recent policy changes for differentiated pay or licensure.
Bradley County Board of Education member Charlie Rose said the board had passed a resolution opposing the recently made changes to teacher licensure being tied to student achievement scores.