When the Common Core State Standards were launched in 2010, former Los Angeles Unified superintendent Roy Romer announced his high expectations for the initiative: “The common standards will provide an accessible roadmap for schools, teachers, parents and students, with clear and realistic goals.”
Now, more than five years later, the Common Core is still making headlines, but feelings are mixed as to whether or not the standards can live up to this vision.
According to recent research from Sacramento State’s EdInsights Center, there is currently a strong sense of optimism among both policymakers and educators – and widespread support for the Common Core across the state. But despite the California Department of Education’s efforts to develop a systematic implementation plan and provide resources, my work in schools across the state has shown that “initiative fatigue” is setting in and there’s confusion and frustration regarding implementation among educators at all levels.
Given this – and now that 2014 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress data are available – it’s clearly a crucial time to shift the focus from planning and transitioning to implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I see great potential for the Common Core to help California’s students succeed before and beyond graduation, but successful implementation will depend on listening to lessons learned from the field.
Since the release of the Common Core standards, we have partnered with school leaders nationwide to assess both successes and challenges faced in implementing the standards. Based on that work, here are four key considerations for school and district leaders to think about when it comes to getting Common Core implementation right:
- Connect the Common Core to all systems.
As Marc Tucker suggested in an Education Week post last year, for the CCSS to work in a district, almost everything must change. An exclusive focus on only one component, such as instruction, will inevitably fail. All systems, from instruction, curriculum and assessments to professional learning and evaluation frameworks, must be aligned with each other and clearly connected with goals established in the standards. With these cohesive and reinforced systems in place, teachers won’t see the CCSS as just “one more thing to do,” but rather as central to all aspects of their work, and leaders will be able to more accurately determine what’s really working in their schools.
- Give teachers the support they need – and deserve.
When it comes to the shifts in instruction called for in the Common Core standards, teachers face a steep learning curve. Research from EdInsight’s August 2015 report, Leveraging the Common Core to Support College and Career Readiness in California, showed that teachers receive a lot of information about what the standards are, and very little about how to teach with them. Additionally, data from The Center for Public Education’s Teaching the Teachers report showed that most professional development teachers receive related to the Common Core is still workshop-style, “sit and get” experiences – even though it’s clear this is not the most effective way to learn new instructional strategies. Instead, teachers need ongoing, job-embedded professional learning experiences and content-specific feedback to effectively implement Common Core-aligned instructional strategies in their classrooms.
- Focus on assessing student progress, not testing.
The measure of student success should not be a singular focus on high-stakes testing. Successful implementation of the standards requires effective formative assessment practices that monitor student comprehension within lessons and use data to inform and adjust instruction – not just preparing students for a test at the end of the year. Over the past year, I have worked with the U.S. Department of Education’s Reform Support Network to build educators’ assessment literacy. Among the resources available is the Assessment Design Toolkit, a series of videos and modules we developed to help teachers write and select high-quality assessments.
- Look for teaching and learning in the classroom.
The Common Core does not dictate how teachers should teach, but it’s clear that successful implementation requires teachers to apply proven strategies that are aligned to the standards. But while it is essential for school leaders to evaluate the quality and efficacy of teachers’ practices, it’s equally if not more important to focus on student actions and look for evidence of learning – particularly the higher thinking and reasoning called for by the CCSS. School leaders must adopt tools that provide clear guidelines and indicators for both teaching and learning. The Insight Core Framework, for example, outlines easily observable teacher and student actions aligned to standards that make it possible to accurately gauge students’ response to instructional environments on the spot.
The Common Core was born out of bold visions for teaching and learning that require thoughtful, thorough approaches to planning and implementation. In my work supporting educators, I always explain that the Common Core implementation is a marathon, not a sprint. But with the standards now being taught in every California classroom, we’re at a critical moment in that race when it’s more important than ever to focus on getting it right. And the students we serve need us to get this right.
Michael Moody is the founder of Insight Education Group.
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