The Common Core State Standards “belong” to two organizations, the Chief State School Officers and the NGA Center for Best Practices. They have a copyright on the full document and the name Common Core State Standards. After their publication, 42 states chose to adopt the standards as their own academic standards. Therefore, if there is anything in any of the standards that a state doesn’t like or wants to tweak, it would require a change for everyone involved which would require agreement on the change among all organizations and states.
The three-year ‘hubbub’ over Common Core in the Tennessee political realm has not necessarily been about the content of the standards, but on the idea that we might lose our state sovereignty over the standards our students are taught. Vocal Tennessee politicians have opposed the idea that if we want to change anything about our state’s academic standards, we, the people responsible for teaching Tennessee students, should have the power to make that change. However, many educators will tell you that the content of the Common Core State Standards (which only address English Language Arts, Math, and Literacy in Science, Social Studies, and CTE) is much more rigorous and college and career aligned that the previous Tennessee Standards, driven by test-defining SPIs. So what’s the best solution?
Enter the new Tennessee State Standards. As of today, if you were to place the Common Core State Standards and the Tennessee State Standards side by side, you would find two identical documents. Let me be very clear: the Tennessee State Standards for ELA, Math, and Literacy in Science, Social Studies and CTE are word-for-word the same as the Common Core State Standards. There are no SPIs in the Tennessee State Standards. (Important note: For Science, Social Studies and CTE, these standards are in accompaniment to the core standards for these subjects that exist separately.)
Here’s how the public comment process is going so far:
So what happens to assessment in the mean time? Because our standards are currently word-for-word twins to Common Core State Standards, our state can build a test from a bank of items already developed and field tested for Common Core standards. This test, known as TNReady will be administered next year using just such banked test items. Since the process to change standards takes up to two years, we are guaranteed that next year’s test will draw from items that reflect the Common Core standards as they are written today. That will not change.
Why not just use a Common Core test and not spend the money required to build our own test for Tennessee? Because we want to “own” our own test. As we move forward with the tweaking and changing process, we want to be able to keep the test format, reports, and online platform and just tweak test items. TNReady allows us to do that.
So, when all is said and done, what the legislature did was guarantee that we will not continue to refer to our standards as Common Core, a label that carries with it themes of belonging to a greater standards-governing body that includes other states and organizations who could have a hand in deciding standards for Tennessee kids. Nor will we participate in Common Core consortium tests like PARCC or Smarter Balance. Instead, we will have a Tennessee State Standards test for Math and ELA called TNReady that for now can draw from Common Core test banks. Going forward, we will have the ability to write additional questions for the test bank that reflect any tweaks or changes to individual standards as decided by the TSBE.