Kevin Huffman, who serves as the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, discusses student TCAP scores during a June 27, 2013, press conference in Nashville. (Photo courtesy of www.TN.gov)
Criticism and praise for Common Core standards were voiced during day two of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee hearings held to vet the controversial education initiative.
“I think these hearings have met the goal that we set, and that was to bring us some enlightenment on the whole subject of the Common Core state standards,” said Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) at the closing of the hearings. “It will be our job now to soberly reflect on what we have heard, and then put together a report that will go to the full Senate in January.”
The report will contain recommendations for the legislature, which could result in a proposal to address some of the issues that have been raised, Gresham said.
The second day of hearings on the education initiative consisted of testimonies from various individuals and groups both in support of, and opposed to, the reform initiative, preceded by an overview of Common Core by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.
“(We) believe that Tennessee students are as smart and as capable as students anywhere in the country, and that when we give them the right challenges and opportunities, they rise to those challenges,” he said.
Tennessee, one of 45 states to take up the standards, adopted Common Core in 2010 and has been gradually shifting its education standards to full implementation since then.
Those testifying included teachers, administrators, business leaders, politicians and individuals from nonprofit organizations from both sides of the ideological aisle, and the issues discussed ran the gamut from data mining and suggested reading materials to the cost of implementation.
While one criticism voiced frequently by the opposition was the cost to the local school boards of implementing the technological requirements to meet the standards, Huffman said that he didn’t consider that to be a significant issue.
The technological advancements required by the standards are advances that need to be made to help Tennessee students achieve more and be better prepared for secondary education and the workforce, Huffman said. Additionally, he explained, the Tenenssee General Assembly appropriated $51 million in funds last year to provide aid for local school districts with “technology readiness.”
“We want our schools to have technology mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with assessment,” Huffman said. “I mean, this is a good rallying point and a good moment in time for us to say let’s all try to get to a certain point in terms of technology.”
Another issue that arose is the cost to the state of implementing a new testing program.
Georgia Sen.William Ligon (R-Saint Simons Island) testified before the committee about his push to drop out of the initiative as a result, partially, of a lack of a deciding voice on the tested material, and the increase in costs to implement the new testing.
“I can tell you that Common Core, and the … assessment, was brought to Georgia without any review of the cost,” Ligon said at the hearing. “In our hearings held last January in our state Senate, I specifically asked (the Georgia) Department of Education, where is your cost analysis, and they had none.”
The only estimate of costs have come from nonprofits, such as the Pioneer Institute, and it concluded that Georgia would be spending about $225 million on professional development, $100 million for textbooks and $275 million on technology, Ligon said.
One issue is the cost to administer standardized tests went from $11 per student to $33 per student, if a school system had the technology to administer them online. The written test could be purchased for $40 per student, if the school was unable to administer the tests online, Ligon added.
However, Huffman told reporters after the hearings that the increase in costs to Tennessee for implementing the tests would not be significant.
“The implementation of the new assessment tests across the state would increase the cost “$1 (million) to $5 million more than if we had to do TCAP covering the same subject areas,” he said.
Data collection by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a nonprofit consortium of about 20 states that will produce and grade the tests for assessment of its member states, based on the Common Core standards, was another topic to receive significant attention.
Tennessee is a governing board member, and as such maintains a stake in control of the organization, Huffman said. He added that because the consortium was a private entity, data privacy agreements have been signed, as they are with any other testing organizations.
Additionally, Huffman said that he considers the issue of privacy concerns to be separate from the issue of Common Core, and more a result of concerns about data collection and a right to privacy that would occur with any collection of data on students.
At the close of the hearings, state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) voiced several concerns and questions that he had on the implementation of the standards.
Those issues included ongoing costs to local school boards, data collection and use, the ability of Tennessee to set its own standards and testing, the textbook selection process, and whether the state would have to pay back any Race to the Top funds if it decided to opt out of Common Core.
The Senate Education Committee will reconvene again sometime in November to hold hearings on the state’s textbook selection process.