Teacher’s concerns over a new student test, lack of training and a plan to link teacher pay and job security to student test scores dominated a Feb. 5 town hall on the incoming Common Core national academic standards sponsored by Gila County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell.
Speaker Dr. Craig Barrett, the former CEO and chairman of Intel Corporation and currently the chair of the governor’s Arizona Ready Council, has held town halls across the state to prepare the Arizona education world to take on the new Common Core standards.
Teachers and administrators from Globe, Payson, Young, Hayden-Winkelmen, Miami and San Carlos districts met in Globe and connected to Payson via a video link to express their fears.
“My fear and what I’ve tried to get answers to is, what does the test look like?” asked one Globe teacher.
The national Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test will take the place of the strictly Arizona-based AIMS test.
Nationally, 22 states have agreed to use the PARCC test to make sure students are ready for college and meet the federal Common Core state standards, which stress critical thinking. PARCC should also identify weaknesses starting in third grade, support classroom teachers, improve accountability and employ technology, according to the PARCC Web site.
The Arizona Legislature has voted to base up to half of a teacher’s evaluation on student scores on the PARCC test and other classroom assessments.
“I think they’re leaning towards a more integrative test with more problem-solving,” said Barrett of the new PARCC test format.
However, Barrett admitted the PARCC administrators had hoped to use computers for testing but discovered the districts have no money for technology purchases.
“Originally they wanted to do an online interactive test,” he said. “But I’ve seen preliminary stats from states that you would need a four-to-one ratio to effectively take the test. What would that cost the state? That’s a big hit to the budget.”
Instead, PARCC will have to create a paper and pencil test. That makes teachers wonder if anything will really change.
“My fear is so much emphasis is put on test performance, it’s easy to teach to the test with ABC answers because it’s easy to grade,” said another Globe teacher.
Barrett suggested the teachers sign up for the PARCC newsletter for updates.
Another Globe teacher said she’d boosted her standards in class to satisfy a new round of reforms, only to have administrators reproach her for giving too many Fs.
“It was all my fault, according to the administrators who answered questions from parents,” said the teacher. “I even had a parent coming after me and stalking me. It’s terrifying to live in your community and be harassed for what you’re doing.”
She asked Barrett if the Arizona Ready Council or the Department of Education would empower the administration to protect teachers.
Barrett said the goal of the Common Core in class assessments was to show student improvement, not how well a child performs on a test.
“It’s moving a child forward. Should you be held accountable for a child reading at a fourth-grade level when they came in reading at a second-grade level — or applauded for improvement over the year?” said Barrett.
He said the Common Core would help teachers decide how much a student knew at the start of class — as well as evaluate the teacher on student progress.
Teachers also worried they wouldn’t get the training they need to deal with the changes.
“We need money for training time. We have free training, but can’t afford the time. We do not have the curriculum directors that you do (at the state level). People have to understand that we understand (the Common Core), but we have to get this into the schools on time ... Help us — OK?” said the Globe teacher.
“That is one of the most common concerns — teacher professional development,” said Barrett.
He noted that the three Arizona state universities will align their training to the Common Core, so newly graduated teachers will understand the new system.
Barrett ended his town hall with a pitch for a new database to monitor the “performance measures.”
“We need a database for tracking,” said Barrett.