Tennessee raises bar for students in the classroom

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Higher academic standards help make sure students are ready for a career or college. That means mastering the basics like reading and math, and developing skills that colleges and employers value - like communication, problem solving and teamwork.

Higher standards also mean more challenging tests - and we may see lower test scores and grades, in the near term.

If your child is struggling with higher standards and more challenging tests, don't be discouraged. As a parent, it's time to expect more so your child can achieve more.

Know the Facts

In order to understand why high standards are important to your child's future, parents have to realize that life is no longer about competing with people in the same town. Today, Tennessee students are competing with their peers in countries like Japan, China, and India.

All our students need the knowledge and skills that will equip them for a demanding global economy.

The problem is: Competition for jobs is now worldwide; Technology is causing profound changes; The U. S. no longer holds a corner on the market for "highly qualified" workers; and,

Workers require more education than ever.

Future jobs require: Higher-order thinking skills; Ability to problem-solve; Ability to approach a situation analytically; and, Ability to think "outside the box."

Tennessee ranks 41st in the nation for student achievement and Tennessee students don't score as well nationally. The majority of Tennessee's 8th graders are not proficient in math or reading according to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 1.2 million Tennesseans over the age of 18 don't have a diploma or General Educational Development certificate.

Of every 100 students who are 9th graders today, only 72 will graduate from high school and only 17 will graduate from college within six years of leaving high school.

What has Tennessee done?

In 2008, the Tennessee Diploma Project was launched. It set new curriculum standards for all Tennessee students, more rigorous graduation requirements and a single-path diploma. In 2009, students experienced the more rigorous and relevant curriculum. In 2010, students took revised tests based on the new standards, and Tennessee was awarded $500 million in "Race to the Top" funds. In July 2010, the state Board of Education (SBOE) adopted new proficiency cut scores for student assessments. Basically, this means that the bar was raised for what is expected from students in order to be proficient in a tested area. The SBOE also adopted new definitions for the four test assessment levels (Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic). The biggest change was the definition of "Proficient". Previously, it meant students were at least minimally prepared for the next level. Now, "Proficient" means mastery of the tested material. In addition, the SBOE adopted new Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for determination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Graduation Requirements The major changes are: Total credit requirements increased from 20 to 22; One diploma for all students (no tracking or paths); Students will be required to take a math course every year; Students will complete an elective focus earning no less than three credits; A personal finance course will be required for all students; and, an additional half credit of Physical Education is required.

How will these changes affect Pre-K to 12 students?

Concepts will be taught earlier. There will be more challenging content, homework and tougher tests. New standards will require higher-level thinking and a deeper comprehension of the subject matter. Students will take end-of-course exams that will count up to 25 percent of the total grade. Students will take college-readiness pre-tests in 8th and 10th grades to identify areas of concern.

How will this affect test scores?

The new and more rigorous testing will result in lower scores for a majority of districts in the state. The initial impact will be lower scores on the TCAP test that will go home with students and lower grades on the system report cards that will be released.

What should our school system do?

Continue to educate our community about the new standards and reduced scores.

Share this information with civic clubs, PTA/PTO, business groups, and church groups.

Adopt goals that support the new standards.

Give the school system the tools necessary to achieve success.

Marshall County Schools Director Roy Dukes compiled information for this article from in-service training sessions for educators, the Tennessee Board of Education and from residents he serves in this county who encouraged a broader explanation about goals in the education system, an historical background regarding schools and their administration and of what should be anticipated in schools for he education of young people. The Tribune is pleased to make this forum available.