At the first meeting of the 2013 calendar year, school board representatives were updated on the techniques Dyer County educators are taking to adjust to new state academic standards. A joint presentation by Dyer County Schools K-5 Supervisor Angela Harrington, 6-8 Supervisor Dr. Larry Lusk and 9-12 Supervisor Cheryl Mathis provided information on educational reform and how it is affecting local classrooms.
"This is important because the state is making major changes," said Dyer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dwight Hedge. "Everyone needs to understand, it's a new ball game. I think it's important we all get a grasp on it."
Administrators in the county school system feel, overall, the increased rigor of the state standards for education is a good thing for local students and their futures. By raising expectations, state officials anticipate raising achievement levels and allowing local students to compete on a national -- and even global -- level.
The challenge lies with the transition. As students move from TCAP-based assessments to PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- testing (still in its prototype format), educators are desperately trying to hit a moving target.
"I think most of us think this is a positive direction for our state," said Hedge. "It is a challenge for our teachers. (But, the state) needs to stabilize and quit changing every year. That's the problem we have had every year -- the state is changing the rules while we are playing the game."
Harrington said the new Common Core standards have been implemented in kindergarten through second-grade classrooms in the county system, but students learning the new skills will continue to be tested on the TCAP standards.
"We are still accountable to TCAP," said Harrington. "So, we are really serving two masters. Tennessee is pretty well in line (with the new standards) though, better than the surrounding states."
Harrington said the number of standards taught in each classroom has dropped considerably with the new initiative, allowing teachers more time for instruction on the standards now required. But Harrington said each standard is much more complex, requiring students to understand the full concept and apply it.
"The goal is deeper," said Harrington. "They are a lot more stringent. Test questions require more than just the answer. They want students to really know what they are doing."
Dyer County school leaders are seeing success as classrooms throughout the Dyer County system making the transition.
"Last year, we went completely Common Core in kindergarten," said Harrington. "This year, the first-grade teachers report the students are farther ahead than they have ever seen them."
To adapt to the new standards, educators and administrators in the Dyer County system are undergoing training provided by the state Department of Education. In fact, two educators from the Dyer County system are currently in the final interviewing stages with the state to serve as instructors.
Lusk also reported two schools in the Dyer County system have been randomly chosen as test sites for the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- or NAEP -- testing. Students at Fifth Consolidated and Northview Middle School will participate in the NAEP testing this year.
"They just picked us out of the hat," said Lusk. "We will attend training on that on Jan. 17. It is a good ACT measuring stick."
In the same way, the Constructive Response Assessment -- or CRAs -- will be offered three times per year.
Currently, Dyer County educators are completing summer training sessions and grading CRA exams on their own time. Math teachers are meeting each month at the Dyer County Schools Central Office to collaborate and train on the new standards.
Lusk said, in the same way, social studies, science and English teachers will soon begin collaborations as English standards cross the curriculum to be included in social studies and science lessons, as well.
"It's an exciting time," said Lusk. "And we are getting there."