Shelby County Schools needs to move forward with Common Core, PARCC tests, Hopson says

Despite the momentum in Tennessee’s General Assembly to halt further implementation of Common Core education standards and its accompanying online test, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said Tuesday Shelby County Schools needs to continue to push forward with the initiative.

“We’ve invested in teacher training and resources and this would set us back tremendously if there was a delay (in Common Core),” said Hopson after Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

He asked if the board would support a waiver if the legislation is passed to delay or stop Common Core. A waiver would allow SCS to continue with Common Core implementation and online testing for students.

SCS board member Teresa Jones said after Tuesday’s meeting that she supports Common Core and is disappointed by proposals to delay further implementation.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward,” Jones said.

Board member Shante Avant, who also supports Common Core, said the district is in a critical place.

“Our students have to be competitive not only nationwide, but in a global economy,” Avant said.

It was the first public comment from Hopson, who leads the state’s largest school district, since bi-partisan bills to axe the set of standards swept the capitol building last week.  The bills’ authors, both Republican and Democrat, argue that Common Core  takes away states’ rights and that many districts aren’t academically prepared for the new standards.  Teacher advocates fear the test associated with Common Core will unfairly damage their evaluations.

While a bill that would postpone further implementation of Common Core passed the House last week, the governor, state business leaders and the department of education have spent the last several days campaigning to keep the set of standards in place.

Metro Nashville Director of Schools Jesse Register told his board members last week that he was in favor of pushing on and is asking the state for permission to use the PARCC test, according to the Tennessean

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Hopson had his curriculum department give a presentation to board members on Shelby County School’s effort to use Common Core standards in the classroom and prepare for the online test, which is called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Hopson said SCS is ready to continue with Common Core in the classroom but less prepared when it comes to the PARCC test.  Hopson said the district does not have enough computers.  The state recommends school districts have one computer for every six to seven students.  SCS officials are uncertain if SCS’s technology infrastructure can support a large numbers of students taking online tests at the same time.

But he added that still does not warrant ending Common Core.

“We’ll find a way to take the PARCC, even if it means using the paper and pencil format,” said Hopson, who also added that student test scores are likely to drop  in the first year of the new and more challenging tests. “We need to have a fair assessment of students and we would put Shelby County students at a disadvantage if we wait while other states are moving forward,” Hopson said.

The district officials said earlier this week they plan to continue to prepare for the new tests until they hear otherwise from the state.

Part of the district’s preparation involves field testing of the PARCC beginning on Monday and providing students with keyboarding training using Edutyping software.

Teachers across the state have been using Common Core standards for the past three years.

“I’m in classrooms and students are able to cite text, evidence and make their arguments,” Hopson said.  “Our teachers are doing a great job.”

Under Common Core  in math and language arts, students are required to master critical thinking, analytical and writing skills.

Student scores on state tests in legacy Memphis City and legacy Shelby County schools have continuously missed state goals. As a result, an increasing number of schools under the merged Shelby County School district are under the state-led Achievement School District, an effort to turn around the lowest-ranking schools in the state using charter operators.

If the efforts to stop Common Core and PARCC fail, Tennessee’s students will take the online test in spring 2015.

As legislation meant to defer or stop Common Core and the PARCC test is debated during the current legislative session, people on both sides of the debate are amping up their efforts to support the continued use of Common Core or stop it dead in its tracks.

Some TN lawmakers are pushing to delay or stop Common Core through several bills that will be discussed in the next several days.  In House Bill 2332, which is sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, Common Core would be discontinued; in House Bill 1825 Common Core implementation would be postponed; House Bill 1828 delays PARCC testing and House Bill 1826 would let the General Assembly vote to fund future state tests.

If the delay is successful, Tennessee would join Georgia and Indiana in changing its stance on Common Core.

Opinions vary on the merits of Common Core and whether it has been a factor that lead to increased student achievement and growth in Tennessee.  According to the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress report, or NAEP, Tennessee was the fastest-improving state in math in reading.

After receiving more than $500 million in federal Race to the Top funds, education reform in Tennessee has been wide-sweeping in changing how students are taught, teachers are evaluated and earn tenure.

Proponents of Common Core don’t want to slow down now.

“The state board would not be in favor of delaying implementation of Common Core and is comfortable with the timeline that was set out,” said David Sevier, who is the deputy executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education. “Tennessee has invested millions in teacher training.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has been crisscrossing the state this week visiting schools where Common Core has been successfully implemented.

On Tuesday,  during the House Education Sub Committee meeting Rep. Womick invited a Pennsylvania educator to testify about the problems with Common Core.  The guest speaker said Common Core standards weren’t high and by setting general standards for all students didn’t allow for individuality or students to reach their academic potential. 
One Shelby County parent said she’s not alone in questioning the merit of Common Core.

“It hasn’t been tested and I don’t want our children treated like data points,” said Jennifer Proseus, who has two children in Shelby County Schools and contacted legislators to voice her opinion. . “It’s scary what they want to do with our children’s data.  Common Core is tied to the PARCC test, which 70 percent of the students failed in New York last year. I hope it is stopped. You can’t pause this because that’s like saying you’re going to pause cancer, and you can’t do that.  You have to kill it.  I want Common Core gone.”