On Common Core,
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Board of Education received an outpouring of information from the school system's Central Office staff during Tuesday's annual board retreat.
Annual board goals highlighted the discussion, which centered on the three key elements of student success, staff success and stewardship.
The board heard from administrators concerning how well the staff supported their goals in 2012-2013, as well as concerning ideas about how to accomplish new goals in the 2013-2014 year.
In discussing the goal of student success, the board reviewed specific objectives based on the following subsections: literacy, numeracy, graduation rate and success, gap closure and wellness.
Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk provided Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Plan data to the board as a review of how well the system accomplished each of the goals except wellness, which has a separate testing indicator.
The system had some gains, but also a few losses, in literacy last year, she reported.
For the 2012-2013 school year, the system had set a goal of at least 49.3 percent of 3rd-grade students scoring Proficient or Advanced and 48.5 percent of 3rd-through-8th-grade students scoring at that level.
Instead, 43.8 percent of 3rd-grade students and 44.6 percent of 3rd-through-8th grade students achieved these scores.
Because last year's goal was not met, the system altered the 2013-2014 goal to 47.3 percent of 3rd graders and 48.1 percent of 3rd-through-8th-graders.
The school system launched numerous new programs to track student progress and provide additional teacher support in reading and language arts in 2012-2013.
In addition, the system conducted an early implementation of the new Common Core State Standards in reading and language arts this year.
Board members Deborah Johnson and Kathy Austin expressed concerns in addressing the implementation of the new standards and the associated testing, the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC).
K-8 Curriculum Supervisor Kristi Wallin described Common Core as offering real-world skills including critical thinking and problem-solving.
Austin expressed concern about the reading portion of Common Core, noting that it focuses on nonfiction texts, some of which she said are inappropriate.
"I don't anticipate a big difference in materials over what we're using now because our teachers are still in charge of reviewing those materials," Kirk said.
She noted that she has met with principals and emphasized the need for them to be aware of what materials are being used, as well as for teachers to read thoroughly over materials before presenting them to their classes.
Austin and Johnson also questioned the amount of time spent in PARCC testing.
PARCC testing, Wallin said, takes place twice per year spread over four weeks with no more than one 55-minute session per day.
Wallin said that this should be an improvement over one week of back-to-back testing.
Testing is, in total, 9 hours and 20 minutes, she said, which is "slightly" longer than TCAP testing.
Turning attention back to numeracy, or mathematics skills, the board heard that this area of study saw greater progress in 2012-2013.
The board goal for 2012-2013 was set at 44.5 percent proficiency for 7th-grade math, and at 45.4 percent proficiency for 3rd-through-8th-grade math.
The 7th-grade math goal was not met; the average was 41.5 percent. But the school system exceeded the goal for 3rd-through-8th-grade math, by achieving 46.6 percent.
The 2013-2014 goal will now be 45.2 percent proficiency for 7th-grade math and 49.9 percent proficiency for 3rd-through-8th-grade math.
Kirk also noted here the implementation of Common Core standards last year and the use of Academic Coaches to aid teachers.
In the coming year, Kirk and Wallin noted that additional changes in standards from the Common Core and resulting changes to curriculum will hopefully increase rigor.
The school system also aims to meet their new goals utilizing a new curriculum map and unit assessments, as well as by continuing implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI).
This, Wallin explained, is a three-tier system. Every student is in Tier One.
The majority of students, 80 to 85 percent, receive all the instruction they need within this tier.
However, 10 to 15 percent of students will need some additional instruction (about 30 minutes daily in a specific area) to gain their needed skills. These students fall withinTier Two.
Students who need even more instruction and still do not achieve their needed skills comprise about 3 to 5 percent of the student population. These students, Tier Three students, need 40 to 60 minutes of daily additional instruction in smaller groups.
Those who still struggle will be considered for special education programs, Wallin said.
Kirk explained that the system has been implementing this practice over the past few years, but that the state is now requiring its implementation to qualify students for special education.
Students with disabilities were the main focus of discussion during a look at the board's goals related to gap closure.
State standards require school systems to bring the scores of subgroups in the school population closer to the average scores for the system as a whole.
The system has began to close these gaps for economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged, as well as for all students and black students.
However, the gap widened for students with disabilities as compared with students without disabilities.
Special Education Supervisor Melinda Pruitt explained that the system is now, for the first time as of this school year, utilizing "inclusion" in every school in the system.
Inclusion occurs when special education students are taught within regular classrooms.
Special Education teachers are now also using a team model in which they do not act as merely assistants but as co-teachers within the classroom, Pruitt added.
The system held special professional development training to manage this new model over the summer, she added.
"That's [the training is] great," board member Roger Jones said. "I think the biggest problem with inclusion when we first started doing it was that we had no professional development to show teachers how to share that responsibility with the special education teacher."
The board also studied graduation rates. Kirk said rates remain at a strong level of 93.8 percent, which exactly met the board goal.
The graduation rate goal for 2013-2014 is 94 percent.
ACT scores for seniors averaged a composite 18.9 out of a possible 36 in 2013, which Kirk called a "significant improvement" over 2011's 18.4 composite.
The ACT goal for 2013-2014 is a composite score of 19.5.
She also noted an increase in the number of students taking college courses in high school, and a new board goal to increase the number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
The system did not meet the board's wellness goals for 2012-2013, but the testing is conducted on students every other year. Thus, this year's results were of a completely different group of students.
Testing is based on cardio-fitness scores and the body mass index.
The system hopes to see 59 percent of males and 41 percent of females meet their cardio-fitness goals this school year.
For further information from Tuesday's board retreat, see Thursday's edition of The Greeneville Sun.