The Bradley County Board of Education continued its discussion on Common Core state standards Thursday night after it had previously decided its members needed to hear more about the standards’ effects on teachers.
Last month, board chair Vicki Beaty said she wanted to be able to go to schools and speak with the teachers and principals who were on the front lines of making sure students are learning what they need to learn.
At Thursday’s board gathering, members discussed the conversations they had with teachers and heard from two local elementary schools about how the standards had impacted children in the lowest grades.
“I visited several schools and asked them to give me positives and challenges,” Beaty said.
There were many different pros and cons teachers mentioned, she said.
Some frequently mentioned pros were that the standards put more emphasis on literacy skills, that students’ performance could be more consistent with students in other states and that teachers could focus more on building skills that had not been emphasized as much in the past.
One con was that some of the standards were too “lofty and broad” because one Common Core standard could have several objectives contained within it. Beaty said teachers also doubted the school system’s ability to provide the technology needed to do student testing online and if the standards were age-appropriate in the lower grades.
Board member Chris Turner said he had found that teachers’ opinions varied based on the grade levels they taught. He said he felt high school teachers “appreciate the perspective” provided by higher standards, while middle school teachers had a “good mix” of reactions. It was the elementary school teachers who had the most questions and concerns.
After a couple of other board members said their findings had been very similar to Turner’s, Beaty invited two elementary school principals in attendance to speak about how Common Core had affected education.
Taylor Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Kaylor, who holds the designation of being a Common Core coach able to instruct teachers on continuing to implement the standards, said it had been a long process.
“The changes that come with the adoption of Common Core are not easy,” Kaylor said.
She explained that teachers are constantly having to learn more about and adapt to the standards. However, Kaylor said she was “impressed” with the teachers who had made the commitment to continue to learn.
Beaty asked what the biggest strength and the biggest challenge of Common Core was, and Kaylor’s answer was the same for both questions.
“It is definitely the high expectations,” Kaylor said.
She said it was too soon to telling what students’ testing results would look like, but she expected that Tennessee students would be able to better compete with students from elsewhere.
Still, of major concern was how the youngest students were being affected when they started school, because they were expected to know more than they had in the past.
Kaylor said students beginning school with varying levels of knowledge had been an “age-old problem,” but it was a problem that had really been highlighted by the school’s educational standards as of late.
North Lee Elementary School Principal Nathaniel Akiona praised the types of activities that fall under Common Core standards for adding more emphasis on encouraging public speaking and class participation among children in grades as young as kindergarten. However, other aspects of the standards — like testing — garnered less enthusiasm.
“It’ll be some growing pains for two or three years,” Akiona said, adding that implementation of the standards had proven to be the biggest challenge in his school.
Beaty said the standards and other teaching responsibilities had added up to make educating students a stressful experience for some teachers and administrators.
“In talking with teachers; they do feel overwhelmed,” she said.
Critchfield said the board needed to offer more support to teachers “so they can catch up” as the school system continues to introduce the standards into the classroom.
Board member Charlie Rose asked Akiona and Kaylor if they had the resources they needed to fully add all the standards.
“Did the board supply you with what you needed to implement Common Core?” Rose asked before answering his own question. “I personally don’t think we did.”
Common Core is a set of educational standards within the public school system that began being implemented in Tennessee schools during the 2011-12 school year.
Each year, schools have continued to change how subjects are taught in order to meet the benchmarks of the standards the state chose to use to evaluate students. The standards have begun to change how English and language arts and math are taught in all grades, and it is up to each local school system to determine which curriculum options are needed to keep students up to par.