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TN grapples with Common Core, avoiding issues of state testing and evaluations

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Common Core is still up for discussion in Tennessee. Today, although mostly among colleagues, many teachers across Tennessee are weighing in on their feelings about Senate Bill 2405 to discontinue the use of Common Core State Standards, which is on the Education Committee calendar for Monday, March 24 during the upcoming and final week of the 108th General Assembly. However, the corresponding House Bill 2332 already failed in the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

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In the face of congressional scrutiny, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has been visiting schools this week to publicly seek out teacher approval of Common Core, according to The Tennessean. Interestingly, he is doing this now during its third year of statewide implementation.

However, although many teachers are now speaking out in support of the Common Core State Standards when given the public opportunity to do so which is what Haslam wants, many educators are also disheartened that the state government is not seeking their opinions or making public efforts to hear what they have to say about other critical issues, such as the Tennessee teacher evaluation system or high stakes testing or the fact that teacher evaluations are haphazardly tied to faulty high stakes tests that their own students may or may not take, which are the issues that many educators agree should be up for debate instead of the standards.

Dr. Virginia Foley, Program Coordinator for Teacher Leadership in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and Vice President of the Faculty Senate at East Tennessee State University voiced her perspective on these issues to Examiner.com today, explaining, "I personally wish they would eliminate the testing, but it's worth it to me to get rid of everything rather than have student time consumed with testing and teachers' evaluations tied to testing." Foley went on to explain that quality teachers are "requiring performances rather than answers regurgitated" by "requiring products" of students to produce work that demonstrates their skill levels and comprehension. Quality teachers will do this with or without the addition of high stakes testing, and these "are products that are far superior than end-of-course tests," Foley stated.

Foley agrees that the Common Core State Standards are "superior" to the Tennessee State Standards, but she objects to "lumping it all together" with state testing and teacher evaluations.

Here in Knoxville, Powell High School English teacher Lindsay Kennedy recently voiced her frustration, saying, "I'm tired of it. My kids are tired of it. I want to teach, and they need to learn." She is not alone in this sentiment. Of the Tennessee teacher evaluation system, Oak Ridge High School Special Education teacher Letitia Graham firmly stated, "I HATE it! We are so concerned with insuring that we follow this rubric that we have lost sight of what is really important, the students!" Graham went on to explain, "To make my job dependent on my TEAM [teacher evaluation] score and how my kids score at the end of the year is wrong. Teachers are not the only ones who suffer. The students do as well, and then [due to the high teacher turnover rate, the teachers who are now deterred from entering the field of education, and the concern that low student achievement and growth scores on state tests will harm a teacher's evaluation score] no one wants to teach the students who truly need to have great teachers standing in front of them." Even more frustrating is that all of these educators, like Graham, enjoy teaching their students and entered the teaching profession with the belief "that all students can learn."

There must be other ways to support our students in this state and federal Race to the Top. Perhaps we should be analyzing these issues starting at the ground level by collaborating with the teachers who work with students face to face every day and even with our students, the ones whose futures hang in the balance based on these public education policies that are being made by our state legislature comprised of men and women who are far removed from the doors of public education.

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