By Heather Mullinix
Tennessee is continuing to adapt and change its academic requirements to better prepare students for the challenges of post-secondary education and to take a place in the workforce following high school graduation.
Common core standards are currently being implemented in schools across Tennessee, and Cumberland County teachers and administrators are preparing for new teaching strategies and testing methods in the coming years.
"It is extremely important that our kids not just know the steps to get an answer," said Rebecca Wood, curriculum facilitator. "It's important for them to know why they got that answer, what does it really mean? And we want them to completely master those skills before they go to the next level."
The shift to common care standards came about due to several statistics on Tennessee's educational competitiveness, including ranking 46th in fourth-grade math and 41st in fourth-grade reading in the nation; only 21 percent of Tennessee adults having a college degree and only 15 percent of high school seniors in the state being college ready as measured by the ACT test. Also, most new jobs, 54 percent, will require the workforce to have some type of post-secondary education. Common core standards were developed by educators, parents and community and business leaders to determine what should be expected of students at every grade level.
Common core math and English/language arts standards were introduced to kindergarten teachers last year. This year, common core math is being taught in grades 3 through 8, though the state has not aligned the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests to these new standards. Woods said the state would pull out questions that did not align with the new standards. Grades kindergarten through second are teaching common core math and English.
Next year, common core math and English will be taught in all grades, but the TCAP tests will remain with online writing assessments. In 2014, schools will fully implement common core in math and English and will have a new assessment that will be taken online with portions completed in a student workbook that will also be scored.
The change to common core standards brings with it six instructional shifts. In math, teachers will focus strongly where the standards focus; think across grade and link to major topics at each grade level; and require conceptional understanding, procedural skill and fluency and application with intensity. In English and language arts, the instructional focus will be on building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts; reading and writing that are grounded in evidence from text; and include regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary. The goal is for students to develop a higher intensity of understanding in fewer, deeper standards. Students will be expected to master the skills and build analytical thinking.
"Teachers will focus strongly where the standards focus," Wood said. "They will take fewer skills and teach them to mastery, following it across the grades as it builds on each other. Rigor will be required for that understanding. Students need the procedures and they do need that fluency, but it has to start with the understanding."
One of the major changes associated with the common core shift is the change in testing methods. Multiple choice tests will be replaced with questions requiring students to draw a diagram and explain their answers. In writing assessments, students will be asked to read a passage and respond to it, using information from the passage, rather than creative writing alone.
"When they go to the next grade, there will be the expectation that they have the skills so that teacher can move on," Wood said.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said, "In the sample problems, we're certainly expecting more from our students. I think they will achieve more. I've found with my own kids that when you push them a little bit, they usually respond by impressing you. Maybe we've been letting students off a little easy with picking C [on the tests]."
Wood said the state was providing training on the new standards, and common core coaches were available to share their knowledge in the school district and beyond. There will be three days of summer inservice available in Cumberland County and pacing guides for math and English/language arts have been developed. The school system has already started working with students on constructed response assessments and preparing students for the online testing process.