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After more than a year of review, here’s what’s being recommended to revise Common Core in Tennessee

English teachers on the State Standards Review Committee studied public feedback last summer as part of Tennessee's 15-month review of the Common Core State Standards. Their work is incorporated into final recommendations being considered Friday by the State Board of Education.
English teachers on the State Standards Review Committee studied public feedback last summer as part of Tennessee's 15-month review of the Common Core State Standards. Their work is incorporated into final recommendations being considered Friday by the State Board of Education.
G. Tatter

First of all, it wouldn’t be called Common Core.

Tennessee Academic Standards is the moniker being recommended for the revised K-12 standards for math and English expected to replace Common Core, a label that became associated with federal intrusion and helped to spark a 15-month review of the state’s current benchmarks.

Second, the new standards are being presented as a true reset for Tennessee public education. While leaders overseeing the process can’t provide a percentage of the 2,036 current standards that have been revised or scrapped under the review, the changes are significant and comprehensive, they say.

“We believe these standards are stronger than we’ve ever had in Tennessee,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told reporters Tuesday in a media call to discuss recommendations headed to the State Board of Education.

“Our state will not take one step backward in terms of rigor and expectations because we know our students have to compete,” added Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Lyle Ailshie, who chaired the most recent panel in the review process.

The revised standards face their first vote Friday by the State Board of Education, followed by a final vote in April. If approved as expected, they would reach Tennessee classrooms by the 2017-18 school year, leaving next school year to prepare educators for the transition.

With the changes, Tennessee would be the latest state to drop the Common Core State Standards that currently are in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

“These are truly Tennessee academic standards,” Ailshie emphasized. “They have been truly vetted.”

Common Core, approved by the board in 2010 as part of the state’s Race to the Top grant application, has been in place in all Tennessee classrooms since 2012 but has created so much political tension and classroom frustration that Gov. Bill Haslam ordered a standards review two years ahead of schedule beginning in November 2014.

Overseers herald the resulting review as the most rigorous in the nation and trumpet the process for its thoroughness, transparency and homegrown sensibilities, including two online public reviews, legislative input, and two panels comprised of mostly educators to work through all the feedback.

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.

“[It represents] an unprecedented level of engagement and feedback by any standard,” said Sara Heyburn, the board’s executive director. “And it leaves us all feeling confident in the end product — that we have a set of Tennessee-specific standards that will serve as the bedrock for learning in Tennessee.”

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

Details released this week show that the proposed revisions range from clarifying word changes to sweeping content changes, such as revised learning goals for high school algebra. “We knew Algebra II was a really full course and that teachers were having a hard time covering all the content and so we spent a lot of time on that course,” said Ailshie, noting that several of those standards have been moved to calculus and trigonometry courses.

The proposal would reintroduce money concepts in the early grades, and there’s also a new high school course for applied mathematical concepts.

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. There’s also a new series regarding vocabulary and a new glossary to provide educators and parents with clear definitions for more than 180 key terms used throughout the standards.

Beyond content, Ailshie lauded the revised presentation as more user-friendly and cited improved alignment, formatting, flow and clarity that will be “truly empowering of teachers,” he said. “I believe that our teachers, when they start digging into this, are really going to be excited.”

Commissioner McQueen already has proposed $3.5 million to spend on professional development next year, including training that would help teachers unpack the revised standards to master how to teach them effectively.

The standards review is being wrapped up in the same school year that the state is launching its new assessment aligned to current standards. However, McQueen said Tennessee’s new TNReady assessment was designed to be nimble to allow for changes as needed in anticipation of revised standards.

“We have a test that we believe grows with us,” she said.

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