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Common Core discussion reaches Gold Dome

With a slight smile, Kristin Bernhard declined to answer the question, perhaps well aware of one of the touchiest hot-potato issues in education today.

“What do you think of Common Core?,” a reporter asked the education advisor for Gov. Nathan Deal.

“I’m here to speak for the governor today,” Bernhard told reporters last week at an education symposium at Georgia Public Broadcasting. “We want to take into account all potential unintended consequences.”

One of the most talked about issues in education, which has its roots in Gwinnett, has made it to the Gold Dome, and is one item to be discussed by lawmakers during the General Assembly.

A state senator from Brunswick, William Ligon, last year introduced legislation that’s still pending that would end the state’s three-year participation in Common Core, the multistate education standards that were announced at Peachtree Ridge High in 2010 under then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Opponents see Common Core as the federal government imposing on state control, and object to its recommendations for math and some literary books.

Proponents say it offers a chance to measure students progress with peers across the country. The Common Core focuses on two areas: math and language arts.

State School Superintendent John Barge said last week that 80 percent of the 11,000 Georgia teachers his office surveyed are in favor of Common Core, while Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, chair of the House Education Committee, said a majority of the state’s local school superintendents are also in favor of the standards.

Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks is a supporter of Common Core, and has said it’s come 20 years too late.

“I actually think the Common Core will be one of the biggest helps we have in this country to really improve education,” Wilbanks said in a September speech at the Gwinnett Chamber.

Georgia is among 44 states to adopt the Common Core standards, which aim to provide a consistent framework for educating students nationwide.

Last fall, Deal asked the state Board of Education to review the standards. State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chair of the Senate’s Education and Youth Committee, and Coleman said they favor tweaking Common Core.

“We’re talking about a tremendous cost if we try to change things right away,” Coleman said.

Added Barge, “We’re not making any recommendations for pulling out of the standards. There probably will be suggestions for refinements … they’ll only be meant to improve what we already have.”

Tests, though, are expected to change.

The College and Career Ready Performance Index — one of the key legacies of Barge’s tenure — assesses districts and schools — it has recently been a top issue. This year, the CCRPI is changing. The assessment will be more rigorous, and scores are likely to be lower as a result. Also, the assessment will place a bigger emphasis on student growth, said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.

Next year, end-of-course tests will be overhauled as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests are slated to end.

The new student test is expected to include fewer multiple choice questions and more open-ended questions where students will be required to show their work. Last summer, Georgia pulled out of a group of 22 states that used standardized tests aligned with the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts, which was called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

The new test will be PARCC-like in its design, Barge said, as students will have to give reasons and cite evidence for their answers. Those constructive response items will help eliminate some state testing, and allow the Georgia DOE to recommend to the state legislature an elimination of writing tests for third-, fifth- and eighth-graders. That would mean at least four fewer state tests, Barge said.

Georgia education officials are also working to partner with colleagues in Florida and Kentucky to share testing items that are already field-tested, such as constructive response items.

“We can save time by leveraging a partnership with them,” Barge said.