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Council member ‘excited’ about Common Core panel’s report

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By John R. Schirmer

Leader staff

Now that the state’s Common Core Review Council has made its recommendations to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, council member Jason Williamson of Nashville said he is “extremely excited about the recommendations put forth to the governor.”

Williamson, assistant principal at Nashville Junior High School, was among 16 council members selected to study Common Core and make recommendations to Hutchinson.

Those recommendations include making revisions to some of the standards as determined by the state and changing from the PARCC tests to ACT and ACT Aspire.

Hutchinson also said he wants to change the name from Common Core State Standards to something more specific to Arkansas.

As council members traveled to nine stops around the state, “It was abundantly clear that the biggest concern was PARCC and the number of instructional days lost to testing,” Williamson said. The tests took as long as 20 hours to administer, compared to about four hours for the ACT exams.

Those attending the council’s listening tour also express concern about “continuity in the assessment predictor,” Williamson said. “ACT and Aspire give us that continuity, and they address all other concerns.”

The new tests will be given in the spring only, according to the state. There will be no fall block tests, no End-of-Course or End-of-Level tests, and no separate science Benchmark.

ACT “focuses on teachers teaching the content and curriculum of the individual school district,” Williamson said.

As part of the process of changing tests, the state made “a deal to get formative assessment pieces during the year from ACT. There are also questions for specific areas” to give students sample questions.

“This will save the district’s money, and it still gives us a national comparison,” Williamson said. For ninth and tenth graders, the Aspire test “acts as a predictor” for the actual ACT to be administered to juniors statewide.

“This addresses the biggest concerns from the listening tour and hundreds of e-mails and calls. The test recommendation really addresses those concerns,” Williamson said.

Williamson is “ a strong supporter of the Common Core State standards. They are structurally sound and provide an opportunity for students to be college and career ready. They provide flexibility for teachers to use different techniques. They are well thought out. They are anchors of what students need to perform globally and are based on sound educational practices.”

The council’s recommendations are based on four things, Williamson said, including the following:

Arkansas maintains control over the standards.

There is a process to revise and improve.

Do a better job of communicating the standards from the state Department of Education to local school districts to parents.

Encourage teachers to embrace the standards and teach with passion and fire.

Williamson said the revision process “found some things not taught at some grade levels. The process will be underway during the next year.”

Although some critics of Common Core raised the question of data privacy, “That is not a big concern of mine. We made sure to put in language that third party companies be rigorous in protecting personal information,” Williamson said.

“As a council, we worked really well together and agreed on trying to find the best solutions for Arkansas. I hope parents with questions about Common Core will speak to the administration about their concerns. We don’t want people who don’t know about Common Core State Standards or testing to paint a negative picture. The answer is just a phone call away.”

Williamson said there is “a good education to be had in Nashville, Ark. We’re not afraid to put our children up against anybody in the United States or the world.”

Williamson thanked his wife Shele and sons Cassius and Kyas “for being patient with me” while he was a member of the Common Core Council. “I spent lots of time on the road, and they supported me in this endeavor. I also thank Superintendent Doug Graham, Principal Deb Tackett and the NJHS faculty for their support.”

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