Staff photo by Zack Steen
Alcorn School District Superintendent Gina Rogers Smith observes a third grader at Alcorn Central Elementary School.
Public school in Mississippi isn’t as easy as it once was.
New teaching standards put into place in recent years have changed the way teachers teach and the way students learn.
“Gone are the days where all a student has to do is know the correct answer and fill in the correct A, B, C or D bubble,” said Corinth School District Superintendent Lee Childress. “Now students have to understand the question and answer it by writing a sentence, a paragraph or even an essay to explain how an answer is achieved. I think the new standards have made our kids smarter, because they have a better understanding of the processes.”
Alcorn School District Superintendent Gina Rogers Smith agrees.
“One of things we are having to make our children understand is there is now more than one right answer,” she said. “These new standards have challenged the teachers and students to both think at a higher level.”
Introduced in 2010, the new Common Core aligned standards, called Mississippi's College and Career Ready Standards, have not been favored by all.
Late last week, the Mississippi Board of Education announced the state would withdraw from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC developed the English Language Arts and mathematics assessments that has defined what K-12 students must learn.
The board cut ties with the controversial Common Core testing consortium after both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves called for a repeal of the current standards.
Corinth native and state education board member O. Wayne Gann said the board is committed to maintaining the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards.
“As a board we want to ensure all students are proficient and show growth in all assessed areas,” he said.
The former Corinth School District superintendent said the words “Common Core” is misleading Mississippians.
“These are our standards, developed by Mississippi teachers for Mississippi students,” he added. “The federal government has nothing to do with these standards.”
Gann said the standards spell-out what the board expects students to learn in English language arts and math in grades 3-8 and in high school.
“Coming to an end is the state’s purchasing of assessments from PARCC,” he said “We will use the RFP process to select another student assessment vendor and by doing so we will no longer allow a contractor hired by PARCC to supply student assessments.”
NCS Pearson, Inc. will deliver the 2014-2015 PARCC assessment as a one-year emergency procurement. This will remain the statewide assessment for the 2014-15 school year.
“When it comes to developing the standards and measuring student progress, Mississippians are in the drivers seat and the federal government isn’t even in the car,” added Gann. “It’s just that simple.”
New legislation passed Thursday will remove the phrase “Common Core” from state law. The legislation however would not require the state board to replace the current academic standards.
Even after cutting ties with PARCC and removing the phrase "Common Core", Mississippi’s College and Career Ready Standards are still very much Common Core aligned and remain the highest academic standards the state has ever had in its history. School districts have spent millions and teachers have logged thousands of hours preparing for the new standards.
“There is always room for improvement, but I hope the state does not completely scrap the current standards,” said Smith. “We have worked far to hard and we won’t know how it has paid off until later this year.”
Both local school districts expect the first set of test results in late fall. The results will determine how both teachers and students have done with the new state standards.
“One of the problems we have always had in Mississippi, is we have had entirely to many standards to teach from, so we have not been able to teach to the depth that would allow for a student to have an understanding throughout their school life, K-12,” said Childress. “In terms of adding or replacing standards, what the state doesn’t need to do is add standards unless those standards are absolutely standards we need for success.”
Childress noted test results coming this fall may not be as high as normal for the area.
“Because these standards are far more difficult then what we have seen in the past and because it will be a national setting, we are probably not going to see as high a rate as we have normally seen,” said Childress. “I feel like we will have a number of children who will not see as much growth as normal.”
Childress thinks the standards will give Mississippi a chance to change its reputation on a national level.
“We as a state have continually lagged behind and we have continually had low student performance. I think if we can back up these standards and believe in them, then we all can make a difference,” he added. “I think our teachers will continue to step up to the plate and I think our children will, as well.”
Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson has many of the same hopes.
“The standards were aimed at helping to make our state more competitive with other states. When corporate leaders seek to locate a facility in a new state -- or expand an existing facility -- they want to be able to evaluate educational achievement based on standards that are common across state lines,” said Wilson.
“We want every student to graduate high school and be ready for either college or the career path not just in Mississippi, but across the country,” added Gann.