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