New ballgame

At long last, phase-out of Common Core is official in Tennessee

The object of years of political tension, backroom posturing and exhaustive examination, the Common Core State Standards are now officially on their way out in Tennessee.

In their place: the Tennessee Academic Standards for math and English language arts, coming to K-12 classrooms across the state in the 2017-18 school year.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Friday for a second and final time in favor of the new standards, culminating 18 months of review and revisions that began with an order from Gov. Bill Haslam, as he sought to mitigate legislative efforts to scrap the Common Core outright.

After all of the political squabbles, the vote seemed almost anticlimactic as members signed off on the transition with little discussion.

Tennessee is the latest state to drop the Common Core, at least in name. Like Indiana, one of the first states to back out, Tennessee didn’t toss the Common Core out entirely, and in fact used it as the backbone of the new benchmarks.

“The Common Core standards were our starting point, but the revisions we have made our significant, and significant enough that we consider them new standards,” said Sara Heyburn, the board’s executive director. “The formatting is different. We’ve dropped standards, we’ve added standards, we’ve made changes to existing standards.”

Standards are grade-specific and subject-specific learning goals that serve as the foundation on which other education decisions are made — from curriculum to assessments. In Tennessee, there are 1,106 standards for English and 930 for math.

The incoming standards can be viewed online, and state officials say the response has been positive.

“We’ve received a lot of supportive emails,” said Laura Encalade, the board’s policy director. “Teachers are excited.”

The board now passes the baton to the Tennessee Department of Education, which will implement the standards. That will involve teacher training and making sure assessments and textbooks are aligned to the new standards, as well as the state’s teacher preparation programs.

Common Core has been in all Tennessee classrooms since 2012 after being approved by the State Board in 2010 as part of the state’s Race to the Top application. This year’s standardized assessment, known as TNReady, is the first to be aligned with Common Core, and state officials have maintained that adjusting the assessment to the new standards won’t be difficult or expensive.

Presented as a high-quality set of standards, Common Core was developed in a multi-state process spearheaded by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, with the Obama administration offering incentives to states that embraced them. But in Tennessee and many other states, it became the object of political tension stemming from charges of federal overreach, among other things, prompting Haslam in 2014 to order a standards review two years ahead of schedule.

The Tennessee legislature further modified the review process last spring. In total, the final review included two online public reviews, legislative input, and two panels comprised of mostly educators to work through all the feedback.

State Board member Carolyn Pearce, chairman Fielding Rolston, and Commissioner Candice McQueen at the State Board's workshop Thursday.
State Board of Education members and staff meet this week in Nashville.

During the most recent online review last fall, the board heard from more than 2,600 Tennesseans, mostly teachers. Overall, 82 percent of the reviews indicated that the revised standards should be kept. And in all, more than 200,000 reviews and comments have been considered in the 15-month process.

The revisions range from clarifying word changes to sweeping content changes, such as revised learning goals for high school algebra. In English language arts, there’s a new emphasis on speaking and listening standards to address the gap in the current standards that assumes all students come to kindergarten ready to write words and sentences. But the true test of the new standards will be in the classroom.

Now that the new math and English standards are approved, the State Board is focusing on reviews of science and social studies standards. The board recently selected educators to serve on the science standards recommendation committee, and the first public review of social studies standards concludes at the end of the month.

Encalade says the science standards overhaul is particularly exciting. The state has not updated its science standards since 2009, and those were considered subpar. Unlike with math and English, the board started from scratch.

Are you a math or ELA teacher? What do you think of the new standards? How do you think they will impact your classroom? Tell us in the comments or send us an email at tn.tips@chalkbeat.org.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Indiana A-F grades

Why it’s hard to compare Indianapolis schools under the A-F grading system

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Because Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School became an innovation school last year, the state uses a different scale to grade it.

A-F grades for schools across Indiana were released Wednesday, but in the state’s largest district, the grades aren’t necessarily an easy way to compare schools.

An increasing share of Indianapolis Public Schools campuses, last year about 20 percent, are being measured by a different yardstick than others, creating a system where schools with virtually identical results on state tests can receive vastly different letter grades.

The letter grades aim to show how well schools are serving students by measuring both how their students score on state tests and how much their scores improve. But as Chalkbeat reported last year, new schools and schools that join the IPS innovation network can opt to be graded for three years based only on the second measure, known as growth. Schools in the innovation network are part of the district, but they are run by outside charter or nonprofit operators.

Of the 11 out 70 Indianapolis Public Schools campuses that received A marks from the state, eight were graded based on growth alone. They included a school in its first year of operation and seven innovation schools.

At the same time, traditional neighborhood and magnet schools with growth scores as good as or better than the scores at A-rated innovation schools received Bs, Cs, and even Ds.

Of the 13 innovation schools that received grades for last school year, eight received As, two got Bs, two got Cs, and one got a D. Only Herron High School was graded on the same scale as other schools. (For high schools, grades incorporate other measures including graduation rates.)

The result is a system that most parents don’t understand, said Seretha Edwards, a parent of four children at School 43, a school that received a failing grade from the state but would have gotten a B if it were measured by growth alone.

“I just think it’s kind of deceiving,” she added. “I don’t think it paints a fair picture of the schools.”

Indianapolis Public Schools deputy superintendent for academics Aleesia Johnson said the growth scores show schools are on a good trajectory.

“If you see that kids are making progress in terms of growth, that’s a good sign that you’re on the right track,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged that “there’s still a lot of work to do” to get students to pass tests and show proficiency.

Johnson pointed out that often-changing standardized tests and different A-F grades can cause confusion for families, and those measures don’t provide a complete or timely picture for families who want to assess their schools or choose new ones. “I don’t think it gives a lot of valuable information,” she said.

Advocates have said the growth only model makes sense because schools shouldn’t be held accountable for the low passing rates of students that they just began educating. But in practice, the policy benefits charter and innovation schools, which enjoy strong support from Republican lawmakers.

“The concept behind the growth-only model was that we measured newer schools based off of what they are able to do for their students, rather than taking them where they received them,” said Maggie Paino, the director of accountability for the education department. “You’re taking strides to get toward proficiency.”

The situation is even more muddled than usual this year. Schools across the state received two letter grades. One was calculated under a state model that relies largely on test scores, and the other was determined under a plan the state uses to comply with federal standards.

In addition to helping parents choose schools, years of repeated low letter grades from the state can trigger intervention or takeover. But the state has deferred in decisions about intervening in low-rated schools to IPS in recent years.

Back in 2012, the state took over four chronically low-performing Indianapolis schools. Since Superintendent Lewis Ferebee took over, IPS has taken aggressive steps to overhaul struggling schools by “restarting” them as innovation schools with new managers. Other struggling schools have been closed.

School 63, which received its sixth consecutive F from the state, might have faced state intervention in the past. But the school is unlikely to face repercussions because IPS restarted the school by turning it over to an outside manager. The Haughville elementary school is now managed by Matchbook Learning.

Shaina Cavazos and Stephanie Wang contributed reporting.