Remember back when you were in school. At some point, you probably wanted to play for the basketball team or be a majorette.
Now, you knew they wouldn't take just anybody. You had to show the coach you could play, so you would go in and show that you could shoot or handle a baton. You tried out.
The academic subjects – your reading, writing and math – are no different. You have to show your teachers that you'll have the skills you need to graduate and get a job.
You may have heard something about Common Core, which I talked about in these pages last month. The Common Core is a new set of standards that Tennessee schools are starting to use. The standards help us know what our kids learn is up to the same standards as other kids around the country, and they will help our children better compete in the workforce after school.
Now that we've set such a high bar for our students, we need a way to know they're meeting the challenge. Teachers need a way to know they're teaching them well, and parents need to know they're in good hands. That's where the PARCC Assessment comes in.
Created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the new assessment represents an important advance over previous assessments in several ways: First of all, it is a more useful test. Instead of all multiple-choice questions, PARCC will have questions that require writing and explanation. PARCC will authentically measure what students know and can do.
Second, it will be more interesting for students. Both the technology and the design of PARCC will hold their interest. Finally, it will have real significance for students' future opportunities. Currently, 60 percent of students require more help when they go to community college or a university. Students pass classes, get good grades, pass the state tests and still need extra help.
That's been a big problem when students get to college.
This disconnect is a problem, and PARCC will offer part of the solution. All public community colleges and universities in Tennessee have agreed to use PARCC scores to know if students are ready. That means if a student passes PARCC, they will not need to revisit high school subjects.
So, what are we doing at the state level to support our local schools as they start to use the new PARCC test?
The state department of education has followed a gradual, three-year transition. They've narrowed the current tests and started using a version of the PARCC test that doesn't count toward a student's progress for the two years before introducing the actual test. The state has trained more than 40,000 teachers and 3,000 school and district leaders. Another 30,000 teachers will be trained this summer.
Here in Memphis, the district is updating technology used to take the test, and some grades have started taking the online writing test to expose them to the test before taking it in 2015. This spring, a small sampling of classrooms in 190 Shelby County Schools will take part in the PARCC field test.
With the right standards in place for our kids, and the right tools for teachers to measure their success, we can prepare our kids for a future that includes a high school diploma, a path to community college or a university and a good job.
(State Sen. Reginald Tate represents part of Shelby County in the General Assembly. He serves as vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.)