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News & Press: Assessments & Standards

The Standards, They Are A-Changin'

Thursday, October 29, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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The only thing that’s constant is change, especially for Tennessee’s academic standards. In 2009, Tennessee implemented more robust language, math, and science standards through the Tennessee Diploma Project. At the same time, the plan was being made to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards for language and math. These were fully implemented in our state by the 2013-2014 school year, and last school year the social studies standards received their first makeover since 2001. At the same time, Tennessee began the process of revising the language and math standards.


A new 2015 state law codifies the process for how Tennessee’s standards are created. Currently, public feedback is open on language, math, and science standards. (You can participate at Next January, the state will begin taking comments on social studies standards.


I applaud the state for welcoming public feedback because as a teacher I heard a lot of feedback about the standards – all of them. Unfortunately, there was next to nothing I could do with that feedback, which is not something I relayed to my students or parents. Instead, like most teachers, I listened attentively and tried to validate their concerns, direct them to where they could send their feedback, and, in the case of the Common Core standards, explain why Tennessee adopted them (Race to the Top funding) and show them what the shift would mean for their children.


Sometimes I would mention that the majority of teachers were not involved in creating the standards, and we too experienced as much stress when standards changed: every resource and assessment we had created now had to be re-evaluated. Our familiarity with the standards was gone, as was our timing in many cases. And of course none of us knew how well students would immediately adapt to the new assessments, but we all knew there would be growing pains.


Teachers are caught in the middle when it comes to state standards, especially controversial standards that garner media attention. Teacher’s evaluation scores are composed of both achievement and growth score data, which come from student test scores. The students are tested over their knowledge of the standards. If a teacher decides not to teach the standards, there are a multitude of consequences.


Depending on the district, this would potentially affect their compensation, their number of observations for the next school year, qualify them for an improvement plan, or could be used against them in personnel decisions such as transfers, reassignments, or dismissal. This decision doesn’t just affect their scores though: a school’s scores are affected, which means it could impact the compensation, workload, and personnel decisions of teachers in non-tested grades and subjects who rely on the school’s scores for part of their evaluations.


Most teachers continue teaching their current standards, regardless of their personal feelings about them, because it is risky and insubordinate to not. Many parents may view this as disregarding their input, but the truth is that, until this year, the majority of teachers in Tennessee have had very little input into the standards. They are teaching the standards not because they necessarily love them (and some do) but because it is their job.


Additionally, not every teacher controls what resources they are allowed to use in their classroom. Some systems expect teachers to only use approved, district-provided materials or to teach from a script. In this case, not only does the teacher not control what they teach, but they also do not have input into how they teach it. Their principal may not either, though they may be tasked with ensuring that district materials are used.


On the other hand, having strong relationships with parents is a key to student success. When a parent has issues with the standards, teachers are frequently the first to hear about it. These concerns usually involve instructional materials, assessments, and teaching methods as well, not just the content. Teachers take these conversations in stride because it is important for parents’ opinions to be heard, and it is probably not the first time a teacher has heard complaints about the standards; in fact, they’ve probably heard them since 2009.


So for educators’ sakes, we at Professional Educators of Tennessee are excited that the state Department of Education is providing a means for parents, students, and even educators to give their input on the standards at We encourage Tennesseans to read the proposed standards and share their opinions on them before they are adopted.





Samantha Bates serves as the Director of Member Services for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. She taught six different sets of standards during her five years of teaching as a middle school language, science, and social studies teacher. 


Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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