“So think of the SPIs as the trees. They are the base. They give us the Tier 3 Academic Vocabulary. And think of Common Core as the forest. That’s what TN Ready is doing for us.”
That’s a quote from the TNReady Training I attended last week. In a room full of people, I specifically asked what we were to teach, and that answer is quite complex. Basically, we are to teach the Tennessee State Standards (look it up – they are the same as the Common Core Standards but changing the name seems to have appeased the public), but the skills of the SPIs are “a great starting point” for the skills still needing to be addressed with our students.
If our training had a team name, I think it would have been “NYD” for “not yet determined” as that seems to have been the answer for a vast majority of the questions asked. So that begs the question: Is Common Core really that bad?
In short, no. The concepts of Common Core are, in my humble opinion, very similar to the instruction in an AP class… Very similar, in fact, to the education I received. I had the pleasure of attending this training with my English teacher from when I was in high school. We spoke about the standards, and I questioned why I felt like she held us to such a high standard. I explained that when I started teaching some of the same things she expected us to do, none of the students could reach proficiency of the skills being assessed by the task. She agreed – she’s had to lower her standards and water down the curriculum because of student inability based on a serious lack of foundational skills. Thanks to Common Core, she explained, she was going to be able to raise the academic bar once again.
But what specific skills are the teachers going to teach the students? Take rhetoric for example. Students need to be able to analyze speeches with effective rhetoric. How many rhetorical devices are there? And which ones should I teach my students? Which ones are going to be assessed? Normally, I would look over the standards and the test samplers, but there isn’t much in the way of test prep for our students this year. But that’s okay… Because as our presenter explains, “Good teaching involves critical thinking and problem solving, not an entire course on test prep.” Too bad my effectiveness is based on this test.
But I’ve been teaching using the Common Core standards for three years now, and my students are doing fairly well. I will say this: Students will meet the bar you set. They will walk the line and try to see what you will let them get away with. Keep your expectations high. Foster relationships. Build motivation.
Alas, the big questions seem to be about the test because we are all indoctrinated to teach the test even though we all know that one test on one day doesn’t really show student mastery of the course as a whole. So what has been released about the testing? I’ll tell you what little we know.
First, the “Tennessee State Standards” are the same as Common Core Standards. While the name on the state page changed, the adoption date from 2010 did not.
Next, TNReady is the assessment piece, and it is broken into two separate parts.
Scoring: More details will follow (and be released from the state as they are determined), but the big thing to know is that you will only get one score set back and it will not be until AFTER both parts have been completed and scored into the final grade.
Part 1: This part is the written component of the test. For the high school setting, this might be argument, informative/explanatory, narrative fiction, narrative nonfiction, or informational. While there will be two actual prompts, one is scored and the second is intended as a field test. This section is planned to be scored by human beings, but who will grade it or how it will be done is not yet determined. What we do know is the rubrics will be the same as we have been using the last two or three years with the exception that the categories for Focus and Organization and Development will be doubled and represent a total of 8 points each (instead of the four in the rubric the way it is written). This section of the test is intended to be taken at 70% course completion, and it will be mathematically combined with the score from Part 2 for a total score. Alone, the written component of the exam offers a total of 31 score points and 34% of the test itself.
Part 2: This part is the select-the-answer part of the test. Maybe I should call it the objective part of the testing. Either way, it’s a bit different from what the students have come to know and love. Considering the types of questions, there will be some that are multiple choice (answer choices will have a circle to select), multiple multiple choice (answers will have multiple correct answers to select and these will be a square), evidence-based selected response (two-part MC questions where students find the correct answer about a question in the text and then have to select the evidence that best supports the correct answer from the first part), and “technology enhanced items” (which might include drop boxes, drag and drop, or highlight options). Walking away, you need to get on MICA so you know it and you need to get your students on MICA so they know it. Considering make-up of the test, there is supposedly going to be 5-7 reading passages with 8-14 questions per passage. Testing categories are divided in such a way that Conventions are 7 items with 7 point (12% test total), Reading Literature is 12-15 items with 16-20 points (18-22%), Reading Informational Texts is 22-25 items worth 29-33 points (32-37%), and Vocabulary with 4-8 items carrying a value of 9-12 points (10-13%).
Confused? Don’t be. This may be accurate as of today, but chances are some part of it will change in the very near future.