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What is Common Core?

Posted on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Since the Legislature is leaning toward holding onto the Tennessee Common Core standards, the Franklin County School Board is working to implement the new educational initiative with a focus on ensuring teachers fully understand what it’s all about.

Dr. Rebecca Sharber, Franklin County Schools director, updated the board Monday about what Common Core is.

The standards are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.

They have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states. Tennessee adopted them in 2010 and began a three-year phase-in the following year.

One of the main criticisms of the standards is that they could lead to sharing personally identifiable student data with the federal government.

The Legislature’s action Monday is a step toward preventing that.

An amendment to repeal the Common Core standards in Tennessee was withdrawn, and the House passed legislation that would require any data collected through the initiative’s use be used only to track academic progress and student needs.

The academic tracking bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, was overwhelmingly approved 81-9 by the House on Monday evening.

Sharber presented the School Board with information about what Common Core is and the standards’ intended purpose.

However, some board members expressed concern about how the initiative could be a step in the wrong direction toward their intended purpose.

Board member Chris Guess said the standards are getting away from what students need to be learning in the first place — the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

He used a math example where three steps were taken to solve an addition problem rather than simply teaching the students to add two numbers together.

“We’re getting the cart before the horse,” he said, following the meeting.

Supporters of the standards say they’re needed to better prepare students for the future.

John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology, explained in an Associated Press story the rationale behind adopting the Common Core standards.

“As it is, 60 to 70 percent of the first-time freshman we get straight out of high schools have to have some considerable learning support activity to get them in a place where they can be successful at the college level,” he said. “If we can get students ready to walk in the door and start being successful in college, then we can move the needle substantially.”

Guess referred at the board meeting to how the focus in the past has been on increasing graduation rates, which has led to lower standards just to get underachievers through school. He added, that to accurately reflect how the students are performing academically, the focus needs to be taken off the graduation rates and placed on learning the basics.

Board member Chris McDonough said the school system, overall, hasn’t done as well as desired in math.

“The scores in math haven’t been exceptional,” he said. “Why not try it another way?”

He also said the public has a conception that local school systems are losing control to the federal level.

Sharber said the standards are merely standards.

“They don’t tell you how to teach them,” she said.

Critics say the standards were written in private and never tested in real classrooms, and that educators aren’t familiar enough with the standards to use them.

Sharber said Common Core seminars have been scheduled to train teachers during the summer months. However, she added that the expense was out of pocket for the participants and many didn’t attend.

The board agreed to consider appropriating the money necessary to train the teachers in the new standards so that out-of-pocket costs would be eliminated.

Board Chairman Kevin Caroland suggested that the system consider adding additional teachers trained in the standards at each school to make the transition into the new educational realm go more smoothly.

Sharber reviewed information provided through the Tennessee Department of Education, explaining Common Core.

She said the standards represent the goal for what students should learn and set expectations for what students should know and be able to do. She added that the Common Core State Standards are a set of clear benchmarks for math and English language arts.

Sharber said the standards were developed to ensure every student graduates high school prepared for college or the workforce.

The information she provided said the standards emphasize real-world skills in math, reading, and writing (including math without calculators and a focus on basic reading skills in early grades.

She also said the intent involves critical thinking and problem-solving skills, plus developing knowledge and skills needed to be successful in college and careers.

Sharber explained how the standards were developed.

The initiative was state-led, and Tennessee was represented by content experts in math and English language arts from the state Department of Education, she said.

A group of governors from the National Governors Association and state commissioners from the Council of Chief State School Officers coordinated development, she said.

Sharber said the public provided input before the standards were finalized, and comments from Tennessee teachers and parents were included in the revision process.

The information she provided says the standards are the goals for what students should learn, set by the state while the curriculum serves as a road map to meet those goals, set up by local districts and their school boards.

The districts, administrators and schools determine the curriculum using textbooks and other resources and materials.

Textbook adoption is governed strictly by local school boards, and teachers and central office supervisors make decisions on text selection, based on knowledge of their students, student interest and judgment of appropriate content.

The move to implement the standards began during the 2011-12 academic year for math and English language arts in kindergarten through second grade.

The following year, teachers in third grade through eighth grade began using the standards for math.

In the current year, the implementation extended to the third through twelfth grade with the standards being used for English language arts. Teachers in ninth grade through twelfth grade also began using the standards for math this year.

Tennessee will begin administering a new test in the 2014-15 school year called PARCC, short for Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

PARCC will replace the current Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for English and language arts and math in grades 3-8 and high school.

The information Sharber provided said the new test is designed to build a pathway to college and career readiness for all students, create high-quality assessments that measure the full range of Common Core State Standards, support educators in the classroom, make better use of technology in assessments and advance accountability at all levels.

For additional information, Sharber recommended visiting and

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