BY EMILY HAGENBURGER
More than 200 teachers and school administrators from throughout the region are attending a three-day training session in Greeneville to begin a transition to Common Core, the largest Tennessee Department of Education teacher-training program in state history.
The training began Tuesday and continues through Thursday at Greeneville High School.
Tennessee has joined 45 other states in adopting the Common Core curriculum to raise standards and improve learning in the classroom.
Mathematics classes in grades 3-8 will be seeing immediate Common Core changes starting this fall, with revisions coming in the 2013-14 school year in English/Language Arts.
The opening session on Tuesday began with a greeting from Greene County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk and, fittingly, a math problem.
After that, a video showed Gov. Bill Haslam welcoming the teachers and administrators and explaining that the Common Core program will have higher standards for students to fully prepare them for college and the workforce and to create more skilled workers for Tennessee.
Other messages followed from state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, Deputy Commissioner Kathleen Airhart, and Assistant Commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction Emily Barton.
All three emphasized that the switch to Common Core would mean doing things differently than in the past, but the smaller number of key concepts means more depth of understanding for students.
Kirk then discussed the implementation of Common Core standards.
3 IMPORTANT TERMS
Focus, Coherence, and Rigor were the three terms associated with the new standards.
For example, in third grade math there will now be 25 standards to focus on instead of the previous 113, so that teachers will be able to delve deeper into core concepts.
The narrowed focus of subject matter will encourage a deeper understanding and greater level of coherence for student, Kirk said.
Two focus standards will be adopted this year at each grade level in the math departments.
Third grade will concentrate on multiplication and division, fourth and fifth grade will focus on fractions, sixth and seventh grade will emphasize ratios and proportions, and eighth grade will study functions and linear equations.
Though the switch to Common Core standards will be challenging for both teachers and students, Kirk has high expectations for the new program.
"I'm excited about this," she said, "I'm convinced it will engage more students in math."
CHANGES TO TCAP
The annual Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests used to assess student performance and comprehension will also see changes in upcoming years as the subject matter narrows to take out questions not correlated with Common Core standards, Kirk said.
TCAPs will eventually transition into Partnership For Assessment Of Readiness For College and Careers (PARCC) tests, which Kirk described as more complex and requiring students to show and explain their work.
As a member of the state's Common Core Leadership Council, Kirk has been directly involved in the formation of the Common Core curriculum and teacher training.
Kirk said she thinks this method of teaching and learning, though different, will help students to really understand what they are being taught, and not just memorize facts.
The teacher training for the program is "groundbreaking" according to Kirk, and is very well planned and organized to prepare the educators for the shift in teaching.
Teachers who spoke at Tuesday's meeting said they had felt too rushed by the large number of standards that were previously covered and are excited about having the time to fully immerse their students in the material.
Also, having a common curriculum across the state enables teachers to "be on the same page" on what they teach and how they assess student progress, Kirk said.
The teachers and administrators will be attending sessions led by Common Core coaches in groups according to both grade level and school.
The goal of the sessions is to help the educators understand changes in curriculum and how best to implement them.
Additional training sessions are scheduled for July 17-19 and July 24-26 in other areas of the state.
For more information about the Tennessee Common Core, visit tncore.org