Tougher Testing To Affect
Students, Teachers, Parents
BY SARAH GREGORY
Students in the Greeneville City School system -- like their counterparts in Greene County Schools and all of Tennessee -- will soon see "much more rigorous" testing, and local school administrators expect the impact to be extremely challenging for all involved.
The reason: statewide implementation of the Common Core State Standards curriculum and what is known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.
Preparations for PARCC have been under way in the 2012-13 school year, but the 2013-14 year will see an increase in preparation since full implementation will go into effect for the 2014-15 school year.
RIGOROUS TESTS COMING
Greeneville City Schools Assistant Director for Instruction Suzanne Bryant outlined the anticipated changes for Board of Education members, school system administrators, and school principals gathered for a Spring Work Session on Monday.
Bryant explained that the PARCC tests will be administered by computer and will require students to write at length and in depth, and to explain their answers.
The content the PARCC tests will cover has not yet been explained, but Bryant said everyone can expect the exams to be much different from the TCAP assessments that have been used for several years.
TWO TEST PHASES
PARCC tests will work in two phases, she said.
* A performance-based assessment will be given approximately 75 percent of the way into a course's curriculum, about February or so, Bryant said.
* An end-of-the-year assessment will follow at the end of the school year, in May.
One challenge for teachers and administrators as the school system prepares for full implementation is the lack of available materials that teachers can use to decide how to focus their classroom instruction time.
"It's a frustrating process for us and for our teachers. We're creating a lot of materials," Bryant said. She added, "I wish I was coming with a budget request for all these PARCC materials."
A LOT OF PRESSURE
The expected rigor of the PARCC tests, Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud pointed out, will add one more burden to already heavily-tested students.
Stroud pointed to a number of different exams taken by students, including course tests, Advanced Placement tests, writing exams, and TCAP tests.
"It's a lot of pressure for students," noted school board member Cindy Luttrell. Bryant agreed.
Another added pressure for students and teachers Bryant discussed with the group was the state's "Response to Instruction and Intervention Initiative," dubbed RTI2.
That program is intended to help students in grades kindergarten through 12 who are struggling in mathematics or English/language arts.
The "intervention initiative" has three tiers, or levels, that require additional instruction time on top of the standard instructional time for students having serious trouble in math or English, or both.
Essentially, the more a student struggles in one of those subjects, the more intervention-related "tiers" that student will fall into, and therefore, the more instruction time that student will be required to have in the difficult subject.
A QUESTION OF TIME
The amount of time involved, however, could create a significant problem for both the school system and the student because, school administrators say, there simply may not be enough hours in a school day for some students to be given all the required instruction.
The effect that the intervention requirement will have on student schedules is not yet known.
However, administrators say that it could result in setbacks for some students since they will still be required to pass the same number of credit hours -- 28 in all -- to graduate high school.
Spending extra time on intervention instruction in one difficult subject -- say, math -- could mean that a student is not able to start other classes required for graduation in time to finish the required 28 credit hours in the usual four high school years.
For example, a geography class typically taken by freshman-year students may not be started until a student's sophomore year because the student had to spend an additional 90 to 180 minutes a day -- or more -- in state-mandated intervention in math or English.
STROUD HAS CONCERNS
Stroud took a moment to, as she calls it, "preach" about the standard and the effect that it has on students "as humans."
"Some children, the way they're created by their Creator -- they're just different. And as adults, we don't choose careers in things we have a weakness in or we just really don't like," she said.
"When you look at what this means -- you can take a student who is 14 years old, struggling in math below the 25 percentile [in achievement], and they have to pass algebra, so they're in 90 minutes in their regular classes, then we have to provide 30 minutes on top of that, which means we've got to pull them out of something else.
"Where does that [time] come from? What that comes from is the things that make it bearable for some children to get up and go to school every day -- band, chorus, ROTC, career technical education," she said.
"We all have areas we struggle in. It's like saying, 'I'm going to take you back and put you in this again, and again, and again, and you're going to get it -- and I'm going to take you out of band or take you out of chorus or you can't go to the Greene Technology Center and use a skill that you could really make a living with, something you do well -- whether it's auto body or whatever else."
Other administrators, principals, and school board members expressed concern about the initiative as well, again primarily citing the lengths of time in a given school day in which students will be required to undergo additional instruction.
The amount of intervention, Bryant pointed out, equates to a full two semesters of two elective areas.
"We're talking about a focus area of intervention as opposed to, say, art or CTE," Bryant said.
EFFECT ON TECH CENTER?
The effect that the program could have on Career Technical Education -- courses taught at the Greene Technology Center, for example -- is of great concern to technical centers across the state, Stroud said.
The concern is that some students who would most benefit from CTE courses and the certifications they offer in courses such as welding and electrical skills may not be able to take advantage of them because of the additional time needed for intervention in language arts and algebra.
Greene Technology Center principal Jerry Ayers said that, although the new requirements are almost certainly going to be implemented, he's hopeful that the State Department of Education will allow for more flexibility on the local level before the requirements are fully in place.
Implementation of changes and new programs handed down by the state call for a great deal of preparation on the part of the teachers.
This summer, in particular, Greeneville teachers will spend much of their time in training, without compensation for it.
Bryant said the teachers will essentially be in training "every day, daylight to dark."
"We are asking more and more and more of our teachers all the time, and they're stepping up and doing it," she said.
'IT IS OVERWHELMING'
Board Chairman Craig Ogle commented on the commitment of the teachers and administrators.
"I think it is overwhelming to hear a presentation like this, especially for a layperson. I don't think the average layperson understands the changes that we've heard today," he said.
Ogle pointed to the final slide in Bryant's presentation which stated that students are "more than a score."
"I think that's very significant," Ogle said. "I'd like to send that to the Department of Education in Nashville and Washington, D.C., and remind them that the children are more than just a score."
"That's the thing I love about Greeneville City Schools -- we're all about the whole child," said Bryant.
"We want to be well-rounded. We want to impact the whole child. Because in the end, our high school students may not remember what they scored on the PARCC exam, but they will remember their performances in chorus, football, and band -- the things that really make high school special to them."
NOT AN OPTION
"I don't think people actually realize that these [new requirements] are not options. These are expectations," said board member Mike Hollowell.
"I don't think any of us are afraid of change and increasing rigor for our students or workloads for teachers, but what's a little bit alarming for me is last night's [budget] presentation with this morning's [academics] presentation.
"We're an entity that doesn't have many options of generating income," he said, pointing to grant opportunities and other "outside-the-box" thinking.
"I don't believe, and I don't think anybody here believes that money is the sole answer.
"But there comes a point, when you evaluate all those budget cuts we've made since 2007 and then you're looking at all the expectations that do require income, it begins to put us on shaky ground," Hollowell concluded.