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Districts, advocates worry about tech, training for Common Core

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PHOENIX – When more than 30 students use the Internet in the three schools that constitute the Sanders Unified School District on the Navajo Nation, the broadband becomes slow and unreliable, Superintendent Michael Murphy says.

That’s no small concern as Murphy looks toward fulfilling a key requirement of the Common Core State Standards: new online student assessments.

“We are scheduled to participate in rehearsal assessments in March and May, and that may tell the state something about our preparedness for doing online assessments,” Murphy said.

Along with other Common Core requirements, Arizona schools are preparing to transition in the 2014-2015 school year from the AIMS Test to the online Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.

In a survey conducted by the Arizona School Boards Association, 20 percent of respondents said that they would have trouble “finding the necessary Internet capacity” for PARCC.

“We are currently trying to figure out how to increase our bandwidth, just with the digital programming that we currently offer,” said Rachel Savage, superintendent of the Williams Unified School District. “We are all about the accountability and want to do right by our students, but the limited-to-no-funding sure makes it difficult.”

Of the $82 million Gov. Jan Brewer requested in her fiscal 2014 budget to help schools implement Common Core requirements, $20 million was for technology needs and helping schools upgrade. But none of that funding, most of the rest of which was for teacher training and instructional materials, was approved by lawmakers.

That’s left school districts to implement Common Core requirements without additional state funding. The Arizona School Boards Association has estimated the cost across all schools at $156.6 million.

In addition to upgrading technology, another significant cost for districts is professional development of teachers and administrators, said Janice Palmer, director of governmental relations and public affairs for the Arizona School Boards Association.

“We have to make sure teachers really understand their content on a very deep level so that they can then teach the kids,” she said.

The Glendale Elementary School District has sent some teachers to training seminars and is using all of its staff development time for Common Core training, said Donna Lewis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“It’s a good thing, but it’s a transition and a financial burden,” she said.

The Queen Creek Unified School District partnered with the Maricopa County Education Service Agency to send some teachers to training on Common Core standards, said Perry Berry, director of curriculum.

Berry said that by November or December the district will have 15 staff members certified to train others in Common Core instruction.

“At that point, it will give us an opportunity to roll that training out to members of their respective sites,” he said.

Palmer said she doubts that districts can effectively prepare for Common Core requirements without proper funding.

“We either don’t fund the implementation so that we don’t have a quality implementation, or we fund it on the cheap and, again, we don’t have quality implementation,” she said.

Telephone messages left with a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education weren’t returned by Thursday morning.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the need for professional development must be addressed.

“These are different standards. The sequencing of learning is different. The processing of learning is different. What we’re asking students to do is different,” he said.

Morrill said that the Common Core requirements are coming at a time when Arizona has made deep cuts in funding for K-12 education.

“We’re disinvesting in our public schools at the same time we’re ramping up the expectations. And students and teachers are going to get caught in the middle of that,” he said.