Teachers prepare for new testing standards

Jeremy Nash-News-Herald

In preparation for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test transition in the 2014-15 school year, both school systems in Loudon County are bulking up resources.

The Common Core standards implementation will enhance students learning experiences by preparing them for life after high school, Lenoir City Schools Superintendent Jeanne Barker said.

The new format requires exams to be taken online, giving the ability for an entire grade level in all of a districts schools to be tested at the same time, Mike Garren, assistant director of schools for Loudon County, said. Schools are introducing new standards this year to help students and teachers adapt to the changes, he said.

I think it's going pretty well in our system, Garren said. We did extensive training last year with most all of the teachers. All of the core content area teachers in elementary received six days over a six-week period, one day a week, of Common Core training, last year in the fall. Then we did some follow-up training in the spring where we pulled each teacher out another day. I feel like we are in a good position as far as Common Core implementation, he said.

Garren said teachers will go through rigorous training this fall in high school and middle school math, both meeting Common Core standards. The state did not have a math Common Core plan last year, which is why it was not included in last years training.

Barker said Lenoir City has taken a similar approach, having teachers go to professional development courses during the summer.

Loudon County Schools Technology Director Jennifer Malone said $247,000 received from the state has been put toward technological upgrades, with a large portion going to Loudon High and Greenback schools wireless improvements. The school system has been increasing bandwidth every year, she said.

With the $300,000 E-Rate funds provided by the state, Fort Loudoun Middle and Loudon Elementary schools will be able to use 60 wireless devices in a classroom at the same time, she said. The plan is to eventually have this for every school, Malone said.

Lenoir City Schools Technology Coordinator Chris Smallen said 350 Google Chrome devices are currently being purchased, with the majority being Google Chromebooks in mobile laptop labs. Six carts will be put into the high school, three into the middle school and two into the elementary, as well as one Google Chromebox lab in the elementary and high school, he said.

In order to get to the point where we can be successful in the administration of the test, then we are indeed rewiring our elementary and middle school this year with more robust Internet service, Barker said. Our plan is for next year to begin rewiring at the high school, and that's really where we're working to make sure we have a budget that can support that. That's a challenge. We are also adding additional computers, and we are making sure that anything we purchase is compatible with what the online testing will require.

Garren said the school system has purchased 20 mobile laptop labs, each carrying 25 Lenovo laptop computers per cart, and will continue to add more next year. The plan is to have one computer for each student in a grade level, Garren said. Teachers and students will initially share the mobile laptop labs until Loudon County Schools can provide instructors with touch screen tablets, Malone said.

We're preparing for the challenge, Barker said. We received some money through E-Rate funding and have begun to upgrade our elementary and middle school networks.

Loudon High School may have a scenario this year where seniors are allowed to take their own devices to school once wireless upgrades are in place, Malone said.

PARCC testing will cover reading, language arts and math, Garren said. Since the state's old standards are still in effect, Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program testing will remain a focus for schools this year, he said.

The PARCC consortium is just now beginning to release specifications for the testing, Barker said. Those have been changing from the first time they initially told us what the requirements were going to be. They've changed, and so we are working on the best information that we have that everything that we are doing now is indeed up to the specifications that students will need to do the online testing.