As Tennessee’s 15-month-long review and revision of the Common Core State Standards approaches the finish line, a committee charged with vetting the rewritten standards is scrambling to include as many Tennessee voices into the process as possible before a January deadline.
The 10 members of the Academic Standards Recommendation Committee, which was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative leaders, had expected Tuesday’s session would be their penultimate meeting. But after reviewing reams of input from several groups during a marathon session in Nashville, committee members voted to add two more meetings to their calendars before sending their final recommendations to the workshop meeting of the State Board of Education on Jan. 28.
“It shows that the committee is really engaged and taking seriously these external reviews and their own charge to make thoughtful recommendations,” said Sara Heyburn, the board’s executive director.
The State Board is scheduled to vote Jan. 29 on first reading on the proposed revised standards for math and English language arts for grades 3-11, culminating a complex and exacting review process that state leaders have trumpeted for its thoroughness, transparency and homegrown sensibilities.
The Common Core standards, which were adopted by the state in 2010, were revised by Tennessee educators over the summer and early fall using feedback from an initial online public review.
For the most part, the Recommendation Committee has heard positive feedback, but tweaks have been suggested by groups that were invited to give input. Based on that feedback and the panel’s recommendations, educators on the State Standards Review Committee will make further revisions throughout December and early January.
Public feedback on the proposed standards ends on Dec. 1.
On Tuesday, the Recommendation Committee waded through reports from Tennessee colleges and universities; the Southern Regional Education Board; state Commissioner Candice McQueen’s newly formed Early Literacy Council; and the online review, as well as roundtable discussions open to the public. Members also received unsolicited feedback from SCORE, the Nashville-based education advocacy and research group founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.
Many comments address the presentation of the standards, rather than their content. For instance, some groups have urged a more user-friendly presentation and called for more supplemental documents to explain the reasoning behind them. The panel heard conflicting opinions on whether the standards should include parenthetical examples of topics or materials that convey skills. Some said that such examples would be helpful to teachers, while others warned they could take the standards beyond their intended scope into the arena of mandating curriculum.
Committee members veered into content based on their own conversations with educators in their communities.
Shannon Duncan, an assistant principal at Tullahoma High School, sent the proposed standards to every faculty member in her district. Most liked what they read, she said, but teachers for early grades questioned whether the revised standards were developmentally appropriate, meaning they expect behaviors and abilities for which many students are too young — a common criticism of the Common Core State Standards.
But Darcie Finch, a numeracy coach for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, emphasized that most online feedback from teachers has been enthusiastic.
“As a parent, and even as an educator, we think, ‘Oh, our kids can’t do this at this point,’ but actually they can,” she said. “Looking at the feedback, I think we should be very mindful, and really focus on the feedback we have. For the most part, our state is saying we have great standards, rigorous standards.”
One of the factors making the new proposed standards different from Common Core is a new set of early literacy standards. Students across the state struggle with basic literacy skills. The committee asked State Board of Education staff to provide more research on early childhood education before its next meeting on Dec. 15.
While the Southern Regional Education Board complimented Tennessee on a smooth review process, the journey has been knotty and complex. Between now and the end of December, the Academic Standards Recommendation Committee must synthesize comments from the public and outside education groups and conduct more research before making recommendations to the educator committees that revise the standards. Those panels will have just a few weeks to make revisions based on the latest recommendations, at which point the Recommendation Committee will meet once again to review the changes and forward its final recommendations to the State Board.
The process began last fall when Haslam ordered a standards review amid calls by some lawmakers for an outright repeal of the Common Core. The governor’s initial plan was more streamlined than the one that actually occurred.
Lyle Ailshie, a member of the Recommendation Committee and longtime superintendent of Kingsport City Schools, said the investment of time, energy and resources will be worth it.
“We’re making sure that our state, at the end of this process, has standards of the upmost quality that will drive excellence,” he said.