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Common Core not a choice left to school district

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become the epicenter of heated discussion concerning public education, which is always a key issue at the state and national levels, Cabot School District superintendent Tony Thurman said in a written presentation. “One of the questions about the Common Core that has been posed to me a number of times is ‘Why can’t Cabot simply choose to opt out of the Common Core?’”

Simply put, it is not a choice left to the district.

But there are reasons why it is not to the students’ benefit to withdraw from CCSS, Thurman said. College-readiness will be based upon CCSS-style testing; without a CCSS curriculum, students from Cabot Public Schools will be a severe disadvantage.

Thurman’s discussion of CCSS at Cabot is pertinent in light of the withdrawal of the Oklahoma Department of Education from the Common Core program. “We would put our students at a competitive disadvantage in regards to testing,” Thurman said.

To understand the answer one needs to know the background of education in Arkansas, CCSS and how the district has chosen to implement CCSS, Thurman said.

State or federally mandated educational standards have existed for a long time, Thurman said. Beginning in the 1930s, Arkansas has required school districts to meet educational standards set by the State Frameworks, which were developed by educators from each district.

At the federal level, in 1994, Congress enacted the Improving America’s Schools Act, and in 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act, requiring states to give account for meeting educational standards. For most school district patrons the most familiar accounting and assessment tool would be the Benchmark exams, which are required by state and federal law and given in grades 3 – 8, Thurman said.

In 2010, the Arkansas State Board of Education (BOE) adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics, which were created by committees of educators from throughout the U.S. School districts then used the new standards to develop curriculum guides that are now being used by faculty members, Thurman said.

“So, why can’t Cabot simply vote to opt out of these standards?” Thurman posed. Because the district is required to have a curriculum that meets the standards set out by BOE, an authority given by the state Legislature.

The Standards for Accreditation for Arkansas Public Schools requires CCSS, Thurman said.

“Accreditation” signifies that all requirements have been met to operate as a public school.

A school district that fails to implement CCSS would be in violation of those standards and be subject a variety of measures including seeing the state take over the school district by removing or suspending the superintendent or any member of a the school board.

For students, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year students from the district will be assessed using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, Thurman said.

PARCC is a group of states cooperating to develop a set of assessments to determine whether students are “on track” to be successful in college.

“All of the students in the participating states have been educated using CCSS. If students in our district do not receive an education based upon CCSS, we place them at a severe disadvantage on this assessment, not only when compared to their peers in the state, but also in comparison to students across the country,” Thurman said.

In addition to the PARCC assessment, the newly reconfigured Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) will use CCSS-style questions to evaluate a student’s readiness for post-secondary education, he said.

The impact for military families is considerable, Thurman said.

According to the Department of Defense, the average military family moves six and nine times before a child graduates from high school, Thurman said. Without a common set of academic standards, those children could face six to nine different sets of standards between kindergarten and 12th grade, he said.

But military families are not alone in the moving between states and CCSS would give consistency in learning at schools in participating states, he said.

“I should point out we are currently and will always work to create the best learning environment and best academic future for our students while meeting state and federal guidelines,” Thurman said.

“Our staff has worked diligently to create a curriculum for all subject areas that is best for the students of our district, and maintains the integrity of CCSS…

“In fact, I have heard numerous concerns from our stakeholders on a portion of our current math curriculum. Those concerns have been shared with our faculty, and we are in the process of adjusting the curriculum for the 2014-2015 school year.”

Any changes in CCSS or in the state curriculum must come from the state Board of Education (BOE), Thurman said.

“It is our desire to give our students the best possible chances to succeed not only while they are students, but also after they finish their academic careers,” Thurman said.

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