PARCC Delayed is PARCC Denied?

The Conference Committee Report on HB 1549/SB 1835 — legislation that would delay Common Core implementation — is out.

While the report does NOT recommend a delay in implementation per se, it does set out requirements for legislative notification prior to adoption of Common Core standards in science and social studies. Which may ultimately mean those standards are not adopted.

Perhaps most interesting is the section related to PARCC — the Pearson test associated with Common Core.

The Conference Committee Report contains language that would DELAY PARCC tests for one year — so, they wouldn’t start in 2015 as planned.  It goes further by requiring that the Department of Education accept bids for a test of Tennessee’s standards, including the Common Core in English/Language Arts and Math.

It’s possible, of course, that PARCC could still be the chosen option in Tennessee.  Then again, the state could go the way of Kentucky and Florida and drop out of PARCC altogether and contract for a different test.

Unless the General Assembly wants to stay in session for a few more days, it seems likely that this report will be adopted as the compromise position — allowing Tennessee to proceed with the Common Core as currently adopted and taking a step back to assess which test best meets the state’s needs.

Read the full Conference Committee Report.

Tennessee Solution?

In response to Governor Bill Haslam’s betrayal of his promise to improve teacher pay, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House is proposing a series of budget amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.”

The plan costs $90 million and provides teachers and state employees a one-time bonus and adds a 1% raise to that bonus if state revenues reach certain targets.

Here are some details provided by the Tennessee Education Association:

Amendments to the governor’s budget plan will be presented this Thursday. The bipartisan plan includes a raise and bonus for teachers. Please contact your legislators immediately to show support for this plan.
The governor’s proposed changes to the budget – including the removal of his promised raise to teachers – passed both the House and Senate Finance committees yesterday. It is scheduled for floor votes this Thursday. Please contact your legislators immediately to ask for their support of the plan to reinstate the pay increase for teachers and state employees.

The bipartisan group of House legislators plan to propose two amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.” The amendments include the following:

  • One percent raise for teachers and state employees, contingent upon revenue collection. A portion of the raise will be included in the current budget to be paid-out if and when revenue numbers reach the total required amount for the raise. 
  • One-time bonus for teachers and state employees, possibly for employees with three or more years of service

 

While it seems unlikely the raise portion of the plan will be met unless underlying revenue concerns are addressed, the plan does provide a one-time bonus that would, at least for this budget cycle, boost teacher and state employee pay.

A more ambitious plan would have addressed long-term revenue concerns and/or provided for cuts in other departments in order to fund investments in education.

As the plan details became available, the House broke into Caucus meetings with Republican leadership stressing that the conservative stance was to oppose the “Tennessee Solution” and support the betrayal of Tennessee’s teachers and state workers.

A vote on the proposed amendments is expected Thursday.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Helping Haslam

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, has some advice for Governor Haslam:

The critic, Niccolo Machiavelli, taught us that assertions of virtue and integrity in politicians are often grinning masks of deception. So we are not surprised when politicians routinely over-promise and under-deliver. State leadership must coherently articulate K-12 Education Policy to citizens in a truthful manner.

By state leaders continuing to ignore legitimate concerns, such as a vocal opposition to the Common Core State Standards and PARCC Assessments, policymakers and stakeholders across Tennessee have now been negatively impacted. This message has largely fallen on deaf ears at the highest level of state government, who continue to believe all is well. Members of the Tennessee General Assembly have listened and we are grateful to those legislators. Many citizens share the opinion that school teachers, principals, and superintendents are regarded by the administration as impediments to school improvement rather than partners.

As an organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee have embraced higher standards, with the caveat that we should always seek higher standards and a commitment to student achievement. We were very enthusiastic when Governor Haslam pledged to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries in October 2013 and again in the State of the State in February 2014. We intend to help him keep his word.

Governor Haslam has justly boasted “we are one of only six states in the country that has consistently increased state spending on K-12 education as a percentage of our total budget.” He has added that since 2011, “we’ve had the fourth largest increase in education spending compared to the rest of the country.” The questions we need to ask:  How much of this has been Race to the Top Funds?  Where were all those funds allocated?  How much money was actually earmarked to the classroom?

If policymakers boast that Tennessee is the fourth largest state for increase in education spending, then funds from RTTT need to factor into that calculation. Our estimation is that roughly $252 million of the RTTT grant was retained by the Tennessee Department of Education and never saw the inside of a school or classroom. These dollars went toward consultants’ contracts and partnerships.

Our belief is that every dollar earmarked for education should be spent to benefit Tennessee school children. A teacher’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. If Tennessee had the most ‘growth’ of any state on the latest NAEP results led by our state teachers, why were their promised salaries a lower priority than unproven PARCC Testing or adding Media/Marketing and Event Coordinators at the Tennessee Department of Education?

We support a delay and/or for the state to rescind the mandate for LEA’s to create a differentiated pay plan. Without the state’s increased financial contribution this creates an unfunded mandate on our local school systems. If the state mandates a requirement they should subsequently provide the necessary funding to facilitate that obligation at the local level. Unfunded mandates fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy and sound public policy.

Teacher attrition is a serious issue. We must keep experienced educators in our classrooms. Tennessee colleges and universities are very adept at meeting the demand for producing quality educators in this state. Historically, approximately 50% of the teachers that graduate with a degree in education do not find a teaching job.

We would suggest a review and delay for all Teach for America (TFA) contracts. Researcher Elaine Weiss revealed that Tennessee spends more money per Teach for America recruit than any other state. Some reports state that total compensations ranging from $5,000 to $9,000, to as high as $15,000, have been paid to Teach for America for their recruits. If this is true, we should turn to our own graduates of traditional colleges of education looking for an opportunity to teach in their own state.

Teaching is higher calling for professionals, not a pre-career placeholder. Therefore, it makes little sense to employ temporary teachers and spend scarce tax dollars and resources then watch a teacher leave after two years. Our goal should be hiring and retaining quality teachers that want to live, play, and worship in our communities long-term, instead of marking off days until a loan is forgiven and entrance to graduate school is accomplished.

We do not seek to be unduly critical of Governor Haslam. We recognize that there are many competent people in the Department of Education and administration. However, the media may be the only hope to reach the Governor. We encourage the Governor to confront issues directly, answer emails timely and regularly meet face-to-face with education stakeholders on a consistent basis, not through intermediaries. Governor Haslam, you need our help and we want to extend our hand to offer the assistance you need.

More on how Tennessee came to be short on revenue.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

Larry Proffitt Wants to Give TEA a Hug

Larry Proffitt is a middle school teacher and a baseball coach.  He’s also on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Education Association.

He’s a friendly guy, with the enthusiasm and energy indicative of someone who spends his days relating to 11-14 year-olds.

Proffitt says that when he first got involved in TEA, he appreciated the organization because when he was down, he could also go to a TEA meeting and get a hug.

Now, he says, TEA needs a hug.

The organization has been battered recently, losing collective bargaining early in Governor Bill Haslam’s tenure.

Since then, Tennessee teachers have faced the implementation of new evaluations brought on by the Race to the Top win under Governor Phil Bredesen.  While TEA leaders signed-off on the provisions of RTTT, they now say the implementation process hasn’t gone as planned.  And that teachers are losing their voice on policies that impact them.

Proffitt is sensitive to this and says the organization needs to branch out.  It’s a new day in Tennessee politics and TEA needs to try new collaborations, according to Proffitt.

Profitt is also a member of the BATs, short for Badass Teachers Association. It’s a national group with a strong Tennessee presence that is focused on calling attention to the most egregious of education policies. BATs don’t pull punches.  Instead, they are relentless in their pursuit of what they believe is sound education policy.  According to Proffitt, it’s tough to find sound policy among those currently making the rules in Tennessee.  He says he spent every snow day this past winter at the legislature, advocating for positive education policy – and mostly, educating legislators on what’s gone wrong in the current education environment.

Proffitt is not following the typical path to the TEA Presidency.  Historically, a member of the Board of Directors of TEA gets elected to the position of Vice President.  That individual then runs for President (usually unopposed) after serving under the organization’s President.  The current VP is Barbara Gray, and she is running for TEA President, too. Proffitt is undeterred by the typical process. He’s running and running hard. He has a very active social media presence and he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.

He’s also worked side-by-side with parents and citizen lobbyists like those in TREE — Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence. TREE opposes vouchers and a state charter school authorizer and has been active in the past two legislative sessions voicing concerns over these and other popular tenets of the current education reform movement.

Proffitt is not openly critical of those in current leadership at TEA.  Instead, he says TEA must expand its vision.  They must collaborate with outside groups and gain public support.  They must provide a reason for teachers to join again, even without the lever of collective bargaining.

The TEA President is chosen by members of the organization’s Representative Assembly.  Those delegates are chosen at the local level. Proffitt indicated about 800 or so TEA members will decide on the organization’s next President.  He’s hopeful about his chances, even if he’s ruffling feathers along the way.

“If the teachers I talk to from around the state every single day are talking to their delegates, I have a shot at this,” he said.  “And if not, I’ve learned a lot in the process.”

Those who support his candidacy say he’s the “Proffitt who can’t be bought or sold.” The play on words is indicative of his outside-the-box candidacy and his willingness to speak out, even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

The Governor, The Budget, and Making Teacher Salaries a Priority

This article was written by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

By now Governor Haslam is aware of the disappointment by educators in his decision to remove increases in teacher salaries. In reneging on this promise, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries, it is clear his priorities have shifted. This pay raise was promoted with great fanfare.

In October 2013, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded Governor Haslam’s decision to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries. We must be equally concerned about the abandonment of this pledge and reneging on this statement within such a short period of time.

Public school teachers do incredible work across the state of Tennessee and the nation. They are often not recognized for their tireless dedication to a very demanding job, in which most educators identify as a calling. It has been fashionable to lay all the ills of society at the feet of teachers, but it is not fair. Every intelligent debate on student achievement would be wise to consider factors beyond the control of most teachers and schools.

No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to do what we now demand of our public schools. The challenge and responsibility has grown, yet public schools gladly commit to teach all children who enter their classrooms.

Everyday teachers are challenged by a wide-ranging mixture of social, psychological, and physical problems that impede the improvement of so many students entrusted into their care. You cannot reduce salaries or fail to reward Tennessee Educators and hope to attract and retain the best teachers to prepare students for the jobs of the future. This must be a legislative priority.

We need to take a very close look at teacher attrition. It is difficult to create a stable and world class education with a highly unstable teaching workforce. You cannot continue to make teachers, or state employees for that matter, a non-priority. When legislative priorities are more focused on the results of a test given at the end of a school the year, rather than those educating children then we have lost our focus as a state. We have made textbook companies and test publishers prosperous while we engage in a rigorous debate over a 2% raise for a teacher. People deserve a higher priority.

I understand Governor Haslam’s conundrum; business tax revenues are roughly $200 million less than projections. However, educators cannot understand how the Haslam Administration could have changed course so quickly and made educators bear the brunt of his decision making. In a political environment rampant with ideological conflict and tainted by partisanship, surely no policymaker of either party can be satisfied by the decision to abandon minor raises for teachers and state workers.

Policymakers understand that state policies and budget decisions affect the lives of Tennesseans. Any budget proposed must decisively connect tax dollars to state priorities. When teacher salaries are cut from the state budget you may well be creating another unfunded state mandate on LEA’s due to the state mandated differentiated pay plan. We encourage policymakers to discuss this directly with LEA’s in their community.

Like many policymakers, we feel disconnected when we hear of decisions impacting public education through the media, and not from the governor or his staff directly. Stakeholders should have a chance to weigh in on the cumulative effects of a policy change. This is poor leadership and lacks transparency.  We would maintain that when confronting a calamity of this nature, government needs to be transparent about the situation, the people, and the decisions which must be made. Transparency breeds accountability, accountability leads to trust, and trust will allow Tennesseans to know their tax dollars are used wisely.

Research clearly and consistently demonstrates that the quality of the classroom teacher is the number one school based factor in student learning. This is not what is reflected in Governor Haslam’s budget. It is up to policymakers and constituents to ask the Governor why teacher salaries are not a priority.

More on Governor Haslam’s broken promise here.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Prioritizing Education

Gov. Bill Haslam tweeted on October 3, 2013: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

The first hint that being fast-improving might take some time came in the Governor’s 2014 budget presentation, when he proposed a 2% pay raise for the state’s teachers.  By way of comparison, Kentucky’s Governor also proposed a 2% raise for his state’s teachers. It’s tough to be the fastest improving when you move at the same rate as your competition.  It’s like being down 40-30 at halftime of a basketball game.  Then, in the second half, you match the other team and score 40 points.  You end up losing 80-70.  To be fastest-improving, you have to score more points, but maybe Haslam’s not a sports fan.

Then, comes yesterday’s news that Haslam’s budget is facing trouble because state revenues are down.  So, surely he’s going to focus on keeping those all-important teacher raises and commitment to K-12 education, right? Wrong.  Haslam is balancing the state budget by denying promised raises to teachers and state employees and ditching his proposed increases to higher education. What’s worse, Haslam’s Commissioner of Education convinced the state Board of Education to mandate that Tennessee school districts adopt differentiated pay scales.  The 2% increase in salary money available to districts was to help them meet this goal.  Now, the districts still face the mandate but will lack the state support to make truly meaningful change.

Below Mississippi? The Tennessee Education Association was quick to jump on the proposed cuts as unacceptable.  Citing research by the National Education Association, the TEA notes in a press release that Tennessee will now invest less per student than Mississippi.  According to the research, Tennessee’s per pupil investment is 45th in the nation and below every neighboring state but North Carolina. TEA President Gera Summerford said, “In order to attract and retain the best teachers, it is critical that the state properly fund teacher salaries.”

Where’d the Money Go? Governor Haslam blames the $160 million hole in the budget on lower than expected corporate taxes.  However, no mention is made of the $46 million in lost revenue from a 1/2 cent decrease in the state portion of the sales tax on food.  While removing or reducing the sales tax on food is a laudable goal, doing so without finding revenue to replace it is irresponsible.  The sales tax on food is the most reliable portion of state revenue. Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17′s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

Other options? It’s not clear, what, if any other options were considered.  In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear proposed a budget that included 5% cuts to most state departments while raising teacher pay and increasing investment in K-12 education. So, while his state faces a tight budget situation and difficult choices, he chose to put forward a budget that increased spending on public education and invested in Kentucky’s teachers, who are already better paid than Tennessee’s. The Kentucky General Assembly passed a version of that budget this week. Tennessee’s General Assembly may make changes to Governor Haslam’s proposals, of course. But it’s difficult to claim that Bill Haslam is putting education first.  Of course, that tweet back in October could also have been a set up for a rather cruel April Fool’s Day joke.   For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Jamie Woodson: Higher Standards, Better Assessments, and Why They Matter

This article is written by Jamie Woodson, President and CEO of SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education). Prior to leading SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore.

When I came to the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) in 2011, Tennessee had just put into policy a set of bold education reforms. Policymakers were appropriately excited about their work. Yet we all know that education policy changes are only words on paper until these policies are brought to life by leaders in schools and teachers in classrooms. That same year I left my role as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly with the goal of contributing to helping Tennessee turn these important policies into practices that boost student achievement.

Over the last year, some have been questioning – and at times attacking – Tennessee’s decision to raise academic expectations for students by raising academic standards, one of several foundational policies that have helped launch our students to historic and unprecedented gains in English and math. Others have tried to put the brakes on new assessments which seek to more authentically and accurately measure how our students are doing. While the debate has been lively and sometimes loud, it hasn’t always been enlightening. Quite simply, misinformation about how Tennessee chose this path has been widespread.

To put it bluntly, Tennessee decided in 2007 to start being honest with parents, policy makers, and students. We had been measuring our students by our homegrown academic standards and assessments, which were low in rigor compared to other states. While our state test results said nearly nine out of ten Tennessee eighth-graders were proficient in math, the national measuring stick said it was barely two out of ten. This disconnect earned us an F in truth and advertising and an F for postsecondary and workforce readiness in the 2007 Leaders and Laggards report card on education effectiveness.

Those failing grades, plus sound research showing how higher standards help lead to higher proficiency rates, spurred our leaders to raise Tennessee’s rock-bottom academic expectations. The first step came in 2008, when the Tennessee State Board of Education approved the Tennessee Diploma Project, a multi-state effort to improve college and career readiness. Schools began implementing the Diploma Project standards in August 2009, when students who would participate in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were in the first or fifth grade.

Just as Tennessee began moving forward, new opportunities emerged to accelerate our momentum. One of them was the Common Core State Standards, which like the Diploma Project grew from state policymakers looking to work together to address the fact that schools in the U.S. were falling behind other nations. Already committed to helping our students advance, Tennessee took the logical next step by joining the Common Core effort in 2009 and adopting these new standards in 2010.

Tennessee began using the new standards in grades K-2 in August 2011. After summer training for 13,000 math teachers, schools began using the higher math standards in grades 3-8 and a pilot of the English language arts standards in August 2012. The NAEP assessments were administered in early 2013 to a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders, and in November we learned that the gains they showed made Tennessee the fastest-improving state for academic achievement.

This history shows the flaw in the claim that Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are moving us forward too fast. We have been incrementally raising standards since 2007, longer than most of us have had our smartphones. This timeline also shows why it is not practical or wise to pause or roll back our progress in raising standards. We have trained more than 43,000 educators; we have fully implemented Common Core; and our students are seeing early signs of progress.

With the standards in use in all grades and schools, educators and parents need assessments that accurately measure student learning, and our schools will be ready to take that step this fall. The Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) assessment will replace the current TCAP test for math and English in grades 3-11. PARCC goes far beyond the usual multiple choice test to measure student comprehension in multiple ways. It will includes questions that require students to provide an answer by writing an essay or graphing a problem, rather than simply picking an answer. To try a sample set of PARCC questions in both math and English, click here and then go to Sample Items at the top of the page.

PARCC is also a unique test in that Tennessee has helped build the assessment and representatives of our state have had a seat at the table for every important decision. Postsecondary and K-12 educators from Tennessee have had unprecedented input in helping to write the assessments, and Tennessee public colleges and universities have agreed to accept the PARCC assessment results as indicators of college readiness.

Most Tennesseans are not as engaged in the discussion about Common Core and PARCC as the readers of this blog. Parents, in particular, deserve to know the real history and to understand how these higher standards and new assessments are designed to help their students.

The bottom line is that Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are designed to prepare students for success after high school by teaching them to be lifelong learners: how to read and comprehend complex material, how to think through problems and show the evidence that led to their conclusions, and how to write clearly and persuasively. I believe our state’s new assessments will provide a better, fairer, and more authentic measure of whether students are meeting the standards. Altogether it means that for the first time, parents can rest assured that when Tennessee tells them their students are proficient, it’s the truth.


 

Thoughts on PARCC and Other Tests

 

This article was written by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. The article notes that the road ahead for PARCC and for other Common Core connected assessments is complex and requires careful navigation.

There has been a renewed focus on the role of testing across the United States. This has opened a new dialogue among stakeholders, as well as policymakers. It is clear that new policies are needed to reflect the changing landscape in education and maximize changes in technology. As assessments will also be changing, data protection is a must. The ancillary debate is “Should the state bear the expense of testing, or is it a local responsibility?”

 

The debate is not merely about the pending and still experimental PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessments. In fact, there will be probably 10 to 15 less expensive assessment options under consideration. Additionally, there are the assessments of the states that are not Common Core State Standard members, for a total of about 20 possible assessments designed to measure a common set of standards. Some of these options may become a necessity if a “Plan B” is needed in case the PARCC exams become too costly or are proven to not be a right fit for Tennessee.

 

The purpose of testing should be to determine if a student is making satisfactory progress from grade to grade in grades 3 through 12. Our belief is that a standardized test is inappropriate within the K-2 setting. The use of assessments should allow educators to better assist students who are behind their peers to ensure they receive the help they need immediately to get back on track. In addition, those students who meet or exceed expectations can be monitored to make certain that they continue to excel. In the 9-12 setting, end-of-course (EOC) exams may still be an option if they are not discontinued. How many tests are needed? How often should they be administered? What is their purpose? These questions need to be asked frequently by stakeholders and policymakers.

 

The attraction of emergent technology is that it will allow educators to effectively identify and address student needs, if there is timely feedback. This ongoing transformation will continue to impact student learning – and advance prescriptive teaching. Students will need to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge or skills in a range of contexts. Assessments should allow educators to gauge their students more efficiently, and provide them with concise and accurate data to permit more focused support to students on an individual basis.

 

Most colleges and universities across the nation use the ACT, the SAT or both as part of their admissions procedure. The vast majority of state colleges and universities admit most of their applicants, and do not require minimum scores for admission that represent college readiness. A significant number of students require remediation. Is that a fault of the K-12 community or a failure by higher education? Perhaps greater dialogue and collaboration is needed. That is a discussion for another time.

 

The ACT test predicts a student’s prospect of earning credit in entry-level courses, but has not been aligned to states’ K-12 academic standards. This is also true of the SAT. The SAT is not designed to specifically predict college entry-level course success. However, it does provide predictors of overall college success, retention and completion. Both the ACT and SAT are in the process of fully developing their own suite of CCSS aligned assessments.

 

Stakeholders and policymakers all want what is best for public education. However, the road ahead is fraught with complexity. If we are going to take the time and expense to create standards, it stands to reason we will measure to see if students have in fact learned them. The purpose of testing is to guide educators on how and what to teach students so that education goals are met within a community, state and nation. We must keep focused on achieving our educational goals as a state and a nation.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow us @TNEdReport

 

A Tennessee Teacher Shares Her Concerns About Common Core

This article was submitted by Lucianna Sanson, a Franklin County native, who has been teaching English Language Arts for the Franklin County public school system since graduating from Sewanee. Currently, she teaches British Literature and AP Literature at Franklin County High School. The views expressed are hers alone and do not represent the views of her employer.

I was contacted and asked to write an article about why I am not a fan of Common Core – or – more specifically, the “TN Core Standards.” As I was trying to decide what to say, I ran across an interview with Diane Ravitch in Salon. As I read the interview, I realized that her reasons for disliking the Common Core are the same as my reasons. So, without further ado, here are the wise words of Diane Ravitch- edited down to focus specifically on the Common Core bit.

“The fact is, we have no evidence that the Common Core standards are what we say they are until we’ve tried them. They haven’t been tried anywhere, they’ve been tested — and we know that where they’re tested, they cause massive failure. So I would say we need to have more time before we can reach any judgment that they have some miracle cure embedded in them.

I know, and a lot of teachers know, they’re totally inappropriate for children in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade, because when they were written there was no one on various writing committees who was an expert in early childhood education… They’re also totally inappropriate for children who have disabilities — they can’t keep up. There’s an assumption in the Common Core that if you teach everybody the same thing, everybody will progress at the same speed. And that’s not human nature. It doesn’t work that way.

“… Common Core standards should be decoupled from the testing …the standards need to be reviewed by expert teachers, and wherever a fix is needed, fix them. That’s my position. I’m not opposed to them, I’m opposed to them in their current form, and I’m opposed to the standardized testing that’s linked to them.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/12/public_schools_under_siege_diane_ravitch_warns_salon_some_cities_soon_will_have_none/

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Make sure you click the link, read the article, and share Diane’s words of wisdom.

For more from Lucianna Sanson, follow her on Twitter @Lucianna_Sanson

A Letter on Common Core from Bluff City Ed and TN Ed Report

As adults, we constantly need to master new skills and adjust our thinking to new information to solve the many challenges facing our world.  Our schools should be designed to empower our children to accomplish the same.  To accomplish this, it’s essential that our teachers have a rigorous set of standards to guide them.  Currently our existing standards don’t adequately prepare students for these challenges.  They don’t push our kids to fully build the critical thinking skills necessary for college and career readiness, let alone to lead the next generation.

That is why the Tennessee Education Report and Bluff City Education jointly support the adoption of the Common Core state standards here in Tennessee.  These standards represent a dramatic improvement over our existing state standards.  They reduce the amount of content required for teachers to cover and give teachers more time and freedom in how to pursue their goals.  This in turn empowers educators and schools to push their kids to higher levels of critical thinking every day throughout the year.

These standards also represent a crucial transition for our state’s future.  In recent months we’ve focused on increasing the number of students with access to a college degree through Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative.  However, college access is not enough if our students are not prepared for the rigors of a post-secondary education.  We believe that the Common Core standards should be viewed as a crucial component of this effort.  If we want our state to be truly competitive in a global economy, we cannot afford to allow our public education system to linger in the limbo of the status quo any longer.  Failing to do so will ensure that we fall compared to others raising their academic standards.  In this way, the fight to adopt Common Core represents a fight for Tennessee’s future.

However, we have some serious questions about the common core standards as it relates to testing.  We are concerned about the implementation of the new PARCC tests and their potential impact on teachers and schools, particularly in the area of evaluations.  Other states that have enacted the common core have seen dramatic declines in test scores.  This is to be expected if we are truly holding students to a higher level of critical thinking.  Over time we expect these scores to rise as teachers and schools become more comfortable with these standards and the state continues to support their implementation.

However, this becomes a concern when these scores are used to evaluate teachers and schools in the existing evaluation system.  Teachers and schools will likely see their scores drop dramatically for the first few years.  This will impact their evaluation scores and by association is likely to cause a decline in support for these important standards.  We are also concerned that we may see strong schools placed on the failing list in these first few years of common core implementation simply by virtue of the fact that they have not had the time to fully adjust to the new standards and their accompanying assessments.

Another concern is that while these tests have been field tested throughout this year, there will still be kinks that need to be worked out of the system in regards to data and implementation.  For example, test questions will likely need to be dropped, added or modified and the standards themselves may need to be tweaked to improve them as time goes on.  Additionally, over the years we’ve given students their yearly assessments in paper form.  They will need time to adjust to taking assessments online, which is a crucial component of the PAARC assessments.  Lastly, the entire TVAAS system will need to be adjusted from analyzing a complete multiple choice assessment to a mixed multiple choice-open response assessment.  Teachers and schools should not be held accountable for these factors which are outside of their control.

We propose three modifications to the current process to ensure a successful Common Core implementation.  First, we propose that the state board of education issue a moratorium stating that the first year of tests scores will not be used on teacher evaluations.  In the second year, test scores would increase to 15% of evaluation score and in the third year they would return to the full 35%.  This would allow teachers adequate time to adjust their instruction to the new standards and their accompanying assessments and give students a full three years to accustom themselves to the higher level of thinking demanded by the common core.

In addition, during the moratorium year, the state Department of Education should seek feedback on the TEAM model from teachers around the state and make necessary changes as it relates to common core. These could include a broader rollout of portfolio-based assessments for teachers in related arts, for example.  It could also include ways to factor in teachers in non-tested, academic subjects, such as using AP scores in place of whole school value-added data.  If teacher evaluation is to be tied to student performance data, we should ensure that data represent students taught by the teacher being evaluated.

Second, we propose that the state place at minimum a one year moratorium on using these test scores to evaluate schools.  This should give schools additional time to adjust to these new tests and adequately prepare their teachers and students for the new format.  We would never teach students the entirety of calculus in a month and then penalize schools when they fail to pass the advanced placement exam.  We shouldn’t do the same to schools.  Students need time to adjust to the new content and the new ways of thinking demanded by the standards before schools are assessed on their performance, which a one year moratorium will provide.

Third, we also propose that the state of Tennessee leave open the possibility of switching tests if it appears that PARCC is not working by including an exit clause in any new contract created with PARCC to hold it accountable for continuing to provide a high quality assessment. After the second year of PARCC, the State Board of Education should issue a report on its effectiveness in meeting the goal of assessing achievement of Common Core State Standards.  Factors for making this judgment should include the cost of PARCC relative to similar tests that also assess the standards. To facilitate this, the governor should appoint a committee to establish metrics which would be used to evaluate the effectiveness of PARCC as an assessment tool in meeting the academic goals established by the common core state standards.

A comparison of new tests in states like Kentucky and Florida is also warranted. We should not be locked into a test if it is found that PARCC has not met the state goals.  If in a worst case scenario Tennessee decided to continue to delay or even pull out of PARCC, including such a clause would mean we would not need to end our use of the Common Core State Standards.  Other states, notably Kentucky to our north, continue to strongly support Common Core implementation in their state but have chosen to create their own assessments.

We support Common Core and sincerely hope that PARCC is successful in our state.  Above all, we should constantly evaluate both the quantitative data gleaned from the new PARCC assessments and the qualitative data we hear from teachers, students and parents.  Common Core represents a necessary change for our state, but there will be challenges along the way that demand adjustments.  Only by listening carefully to those directly impacted by these new standards will we truly be able to fully implement them and alter the trajectory of the future of public education here in Tennessee.

Tennessee Education Report Endorsers: Andy Spears, Zack Barnes, John Haubenreich

Bluff City Education Endorsers: Jon Alfuth, Ryan Winn, James Aycock, Tamera Malone, Elana Cole, Casie Jones

Follow these Tennessee education writers on Twitter @BluffCityEd and @TNEdReport