Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

February 24, 2014

BOE studies long-range plans

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Board of Education is concerned about the impact new standards and assessments will have on academic achievement standards imposed by the state; but one board member cautioned against setting an expectation of poor scores for the students.

Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, asked what it could do to students if they hear they are not expected to do well on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) testings.

"If we go into it telling our children enough that they won't make it, they lose hope," Blalock told the board during a work session Saturday.

Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, noted Common Core is the third set of standards to be implemented in Tennessee in the last seven years. Data from other states who have implemented the standards has found proficiency rates drop by about 30 percent, as was seen in Kentucky and New York. Those test scores are used to report on the quality of education in the community and are tied to teacher evaluations.

The new standards require a deeper level of understanding of standards in order to show proficiency, such as moving away from multiple choice tests. He likened it to being told he would be tested on his ability to dunk a basketball.

"I can train, and practice and prepare, but I'm not going to be able to dunk that basketball," he said.

Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said one issue teachers were encountering in preparing for Common Core is changing the methods used to teach.

"There is a learning curve to that," she said. "And, they are still responsible for those annual measurable objectives set by the state."

Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said, "We know teacher expectations is among the top three predictors of student learning. By the same token, we can have high expectations and still not meet them. We're caught in a bind."

Wood noted the county was taking steps to ensure teachers were prepared for the coming changes with professional development, coaching and other tools being put in place in the county.

"We're trying to make the best of the situation," said Wood. "This is what we are told to do. The teachers have to have hope they can get this done."

One thing the school system is looking into is the number of tests students take in a year and finding other ways to assess student learning.

"We do a lot of testing, and we're hearing from teachers, parents and students that it's stressing them out," said Wood.

Much of that testing is intended to help teachers see what skills students may be struggling with so they can direct additional learning resources to that student prior to the final year-end testing on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

"We're looking for ways we can get that information without it looking like a test," said Wood. "We want our students to perform well, but we don't want them to just be good test takers."

In the strategic planning goals for the school system, the school system wants to see that all annual measurable objectives, the number of students proficient and advanced in each area, meets the targets set by the state. It also wants to decrease the achievement gap between subgroups, particularly economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and black, Hispanic and Native American students. The school system would like to see a five percent increase in ACT benchmarks by five percent, and see that 93.7 percent of students graduate from high school with their original group of classmates.

Schlafer said, "That's an ambitious goal for the ACT."

Wood said that the community group who helped write the goals believed it was an achievable number. The benchmarks indicate college and career readiness of students graduating high school.

The county will also begin collecting data on students passing certification exams and earning college credits prior to high school graduation.

"We're excited to start looking at this," Wood said. "Some students can graduate with a certificate in hand and can be employed immediately. We want to start looking at what students are walking away with."

Other goals include increasing the amount of physical activity for all students and focusing on developing strong student character, personal responsibility and community and world involvement.

Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, noted he had read about child brain development and the need for adequate time to wake up and focus before learning in younger grades. He asked about programs that could assist with that. Many schools in the county use Brain Gym, which provides younger students about 15 minutes of physical activity before they are dismissed to class each morning.

A technology plan is being developed to ensure the school system represents a 21st century learning environment. That plan could include leasing of computers to help ensure schools are properly equipped and able to be kept up-to-date at the least cost.

A five-year maintenance plan with plans for preventative maintenance was also discussed to help prolong the useable life of facilities.

Director of Schools Donald Andrews explained the strategic plan was built from the annual plan developed by the board and done with the assistance of a cross-section of community members, teachers, students and other stakeholders.

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