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JEFF MEADORS: Too much turmoil in curriculum changes and student assessments

This is the second of a three-part series on Common Core State Standards.

Samantha Fuhrey, NCSS superintendent of schools, believes the Newton County School System is experiencing gains.

“According to our recent state assessment results (spring fiscal year 2013),” argues Fuhrey, “we continue to experience progress relative to students’ achievement with the exception of coordinate algebra where we struggled.”

Sugar falls from the rhetoric in blunt talk most refreshing to this columnist. Fuhrey is a visionary grounded in realism.

She adds, “We have been consistent with our implementation of RBIS, BBK and TI as outlined in our strategic plan, which has enabled us to continue to see improvement in most curricular areas.”

Fuhrey references three goals from Newton’s Strategic Plan: Research-based Instructional Strategies, Building Background Knowledge, and Technology Integration — all local initiatives capable of gains independent of Common Core State Standards.

Newton’s implementation blends CCSS (national), the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, (state), and the local system’s Strategic Plan to make gains. Despite state wrangling over nomenclature and federal Race To The Top cash, Fuhrey extracts the best of all available options to develop and execute a local plan for school improvement for local students.

But is that too much too fast for students and teachers?

Stopping short of affirmation Fuhrey concedes, “A challenge is continuous variation in curriculum and assessments — we hadn’t finished rolling out the HS Math GPS and began preparing for the CCGPS!”

Yet with a laser focus on student achievement Fuhrey commissioned a localized inaugural SAT/ACT Strategic Plan, an organic, tailor-made, vertical K-12 approach to promoting college and career readiness and higher SAT/ACT test scores, essentially quelling the tide of critics seeking improved HOPE eligibility percentages and seniors with college acceptance letters in hand — all of this on the heels of newly launched STEM Cohort this year.

Diane Ravitch, national education historian and former U.S. assistant secretary of education, argued recently to the Modern Language Association that, “No other nation in the world has inflicted so many changes or imposed so many mandates on its teachers and public schools as we have in the past dozen years. No other nation tests every student every year as we do.”

The Newton approach includes diverse stakeholders with refreshing input from those inside classroom walls — our teachers.

In reference to the rollout of Common Core Ravitch asserts, “They arrive at a time when American public education and its teachers are under attack. Never have public schools been as subject to upheaval, assault, and chaos as they are today.”

Ravitch calls testing giant Pearson the “ultimate arbiter of the fate of students, teachers, and schools.” But does Pearson, Inc., heavily tied to Common Core assessments, deserve the ignominy?

The notorious pineapple and the hare test question which puzzled New York students launched Pineapple-Gate. On a test with more than 30 errors a talking pineapple prompted masses of eighth-grade students to balk at testing absurdities.

Nothing ruins a testing environment like a talking pineapple and angry eighth-graders.

But there’s more next week. Pearson’s 45,739 wrongly-graded Minnesota graduation tests, the ensuing $11 million graduation dirge, and the legal learning curve of mixing business with charity continue my quest to find the adults in the room of the Common Core rollout.

Columnist Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com