Forum participants back Common Core academic standards

Some parents have ripped Common Core standards as being inadequate.

More than a few politicians have said the standards represent a federal intrusion into public education. There are even those who say Common Core is part of a Barack Obama-led plan to force Islam onto American students.

The new set of academic standards have been kicked up one side of Georgia and down another. But the standards do have some backers, and they spoke up Tuesday during a forum hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a group of business, government and education leaders that focuses on education.

Singing the praises of Common Core, designed to make sure students across the country can meet the same standards, whether they are in Georgia or Massachusetts, were Jemelleh Coes, the 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year; Col. Patricia Ross, vice commander of the 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base; Robyn Oatley, project manager of an education initiative in Kentucky; and Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. They also pushed back against what they described as inaccurate criticisms of the standards.

One consistent denunciation is that they were ordered up and written by the federal government.

Petrilli, a self-described conservative whose institute leans right, said that criticism is simply not true. The federal government, through financial incentives, have encouraged states to join Common Core, he said.

“The incentives had a role to play, but the federal government didn’t write the standards,” Petrilli said, reminding those listening in the first-floor auditorium at the Georgia Pacific tower downtown that state governors spurred the creation of the standards.

Oatley said that Kentucky, which has been following Common Core for the past three years, is already seeing improvements in the percentages of students considered ready for college-level work.

Ross said the standards, written by business and education officials and adopted by Georgia in 2010, are particularly important to military families, who move frequently.

“Common Core is basically the great equalizer,” Ross said.

Many teachers in Georgia believe in the standards and believe they can help students, Coes said. But teachers want to know that the standards — and any test tied to them — won’t be used against them come evaluation time.

“Test scores are going to go down before they go up,” Coes said. “If the scores go down, teachers feel they will be blamed.”

Two groups, Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, are developing separate assessments to determine whether students are meeting Common Core standards. Georgia was planning to use the PARCC assessment, but state leaders decided the test — which could have cost as much as $27 million — was too expensive.

Georgia will offer its own assessment. But Petrilli wondered whether the state would be able to come up with a test by the 2014-2015 school year, when the PARCC test was to be given and when the U.S. government is demanding that states increase the rigor of their state assessments.

Petrilli noted that state tests show a high percentage of Georgia students are doing well in reading. A much lower percentage are doing well according to national tests.

Petrilli said tests in Georgia and other states have not given parents an accurate picture of how far behind their children have fallen academically.

“People should be outraged about this,” he said. “We’ve been lying to people.”