Susan Frey/EdSource Today

Students at Westlake Middle School in Oakland work on scale ratios in their Common Core math class.

Most California teachers, principals and superintendents view the Common Core as more rigorous and more relevant to students than the previous state standards, but disagree over how well the Common Core has been implemented, researchers from the nonprofit education agency WestEd have concluded.

While a majority of superintendents and district leaders say their districts have successfully rolled out the new standards, classroom teachers in California are not as upbeat. In a questionnaire and interviews, they expressed doubts about their principals’ instructional knowledge and capacity to lead the transition to the new standards. Teachers also reported they are struggling to find instructional materials aligned to the standards, relying on online resources and each other’s lesson plans rather than state-endorsed resources.

“Principals have not been trained in instructional leadership tied to the new standards, and so the state needs to consider leading administrator training that encompasses the standards,” WestEd Senior Policy Associate Reino Makkonen said in an interview. District and school leaders generally do not understand “the degrees of change” in instruction that the new standards require, he said.

WestEd, a San Francisco education research and training nonprofit, presented a four-page summary and a PowerPoint presentation Wednesday to the State Board of Education, which adopts and oversees the administration of academic standards and tests and endorsed the Common Core research. WestEd based its conclusions on focus groups with 72 teachers in 29 California districts, interviews with 41 superintendents or district instructional leaders, its research and training in Common Core through several district networks, and an extensive survey of principals, teachers and district leaders conducted between September and December 2015.

A low rate of participation in the surveys, however, hampered its effort, researchers said. WestEd sent out a comprehensive questionnaire to every principal and superintendent in the state and to 7,000 teachers. The teacher survey was 17 pages.

Only 29 percent of 835 superintendents, 23 percent of the 7,000 teachers and 20 percent of 7,375 principals responded, despite repeated requests. The response rate was too low to be considered statistically valid. “We don’t know if the 20 percent response was from the most positive Common Core believers or not,” Makkonen said. As a result, WestEd is only citing percentages of answers to questions when they are consistent with findings in focus groups and interviews, or studies in other states, Makkonen said. Otherwise, researchers are characterizing the responses more broadly.

For example, researchers said that by percentages ranging from 56 to 92 percent, teachers and principals said they agreed with the statements that the Common Core is more rigorous than previous standards, makes learning more relevant to students and will better prepare students for college and careers. No more than 25 percent of teachers and principals disagreed with any of the statements. Teachers with five or fewer years of experience were most supportive of the standards, the research found.

Among the findings by WestEd, more than 70 percent district leaders rated their progress in rolling out the Common Core as good or excellent, with implementation of English language arts getting better marks than math. But in interviews with WestEd researchers, district leaders acknowledged that principals haven’t received the same level of training in the Common Core as teachers. Initially, districts made teachers the priority, Robert Sheffield, a survey leader and director of WestEd’s California Initiatives at the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, said in an interview.

Fewer than 25 percent of teachers responding to surveys said they had adequate time to implement the Common Core; approximately two-thirds agreed that the training they received in 2014-15 was aligned with the Common Core, but “lower proportions” rated what they received as helpful.

What teachers want, Sheffield said, is time to develop lessons and to learn from one another at their schools about best teaching practices – and not the traditional professional development in a big, off-site setting. And teachers said they value classroom observations by a good instructional coach, he said.

That finding jibes with what Jennifer O’Day, a research scientist and policy analyst with the American Institutes of Research, has been hearing from teachers. “Teachers are excited about the new standards but also a little bit stressed to deeply understand what is needed (to do instruction well) – to get beyond the surface of implementation,” she said.

Teachers also want more instruction on how to make the Common Core more accessible to English learners, said O’Day, who also chairs the California Collaborative on District Reform. WestEd researchers also reported that finding.

Scarcity of good materials

All groups of educators complained about the lack of quality Common Core instructional materials, especially in English language arts. One reason for this, WestEd noted, is that the state did not endorse a list of English language arts textbooks until November 2015, a year after it approved instructional materials in math. Sheffield said that some teachers and leaders also expressed “some displeasure” with math materials that seemed adequate when their districts adopted them only a few years ago. Teachers “now have greater knowledge about what they need than two years ago and what instruction should look like,” he said.

Confirming what another national study has found, teachers in focus groups said they were relying on other teachers at their schools and online as a primary source for instructional materials.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s digital library, a collection of resources and lesson plans that California and other Smarter Balanced member states pay for, remains an underutilized resource. It features classroom exercises, called formative assessments, that teachers can use to diagnose students’ understanding of Common Core standards as they teach them. In focus groups, teachers expressed concern about their inability to measure their students’ progress in the standards during the year. And yet fewer than a third of teachers reported they had received training on how to use the digital library.

The digital library also includes a bank of interim assessments, which are shorter versions of the end-of-the-year Smarter Balanced tests that teachers can give periodically to gauge progress. The majority of district leaders interviewed last fall said they had not yet started using them. State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, however, said that state officials had detected more downloads by teachers and districts since Jan. 1.

In a discussion after WestEd’s presentation, Kirst said the findings underscore the need for the board to monitor more closely districts’ progress on the Common Core and to determine how the state board can best help out.

Board members, however, disagreed about how big a role the state should play.

Board member Sue Burr said that the state has assumed a smaller role in overseeing standards implementation under the shift to local control. The Legislature included state-adopted academic standards as one of the eight state priorities under the Local Control Funding Formula. Districts are required to address how they will do that annually in their Local Control and Accountability Plans. The state should be “cautious” about reasserting a bigger role, she said.

But board member Patricia Rucker, a former teacher who works as a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association, said that the message from teachers is that implementation is not going well – even though it’s supposed to be a priority in the LCAP. “We cannot become comfortable when data is telling us that something about the process is not working,” she said. She said she sensed a “mission drift” by the state Department of Education away from focusing on the Common Core state implementation plan, which the state board adopted in 2014.

There still needs to be a concerted effort to “keep the standards foremost a priority,” she said.

Chief Deputy State Superintendent Glen Price said the department has created an LCAP support team to help districts with standards work and a new Common Core Stakeholders Group that includes county superintendents to identify next steps for standards implementation. But he also acknowledged, “We have a long way to go to get where we want to be.”


Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Comments Policy

The goal of the comments section on EdSource is to facilitate thoughtful conversation about content published on our website. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

Expand Comments
Collapse Comments
  1. Gary Ravani 4 months ago4 months ago

    My recollection is that discussions, at the SBE, of the online resources via the Smarter Balanced consortium for teachers to access Common Core materials was being restricted by some districts because they didn't want teachers accessing anything beyond the control of local school administrations. Those districts wanted only administrators to be providing teachers with professional development to protect "quality." Now we see that, in teachers' opinion, local administrators are not qualified to provide that kind … Read More

    My recollection is that discussions, at the SBE, of the online resources via the Smarter Balanced consortium for teachers to access Common Core materials was being restricted by some districts because they didn’t want teachers accessing anything beyond the control of local school administrations. Those districts wanted only administrators to be providing teachers with professional development to protect “quality.” Now we see that, in teachers’ opinion, local administrators are not qualified to provide that kind of instructional leadership, so teachers are left with no access to the professional development and curricular support at all. That’s one definition of “quality control,” I guess. Let me suggest this outcome was entirely predictable.

  2. zane de arakal 4 months ago4 months ago

    Give it 3 years, now is hardly longitudinal. And, historically, principals have not been strong in instruction.

  3. Jennifer Peck 4 months ago4 months ago

    I agree with the comments in the article that the state shouldn't necessarily expand its role; however, the state should be firmly responsible for making sure that educators have the resources and support they need, even with implementation being locally driven. This doesn't take a lot of bureaucracy; it takes skillful leveraging of resources and information in the system, coordinating resources and information so it's easy for educators on the ground to find and access … Read More

    I agree with the comments in the article that the state shouldn’t necessarily expand its role; however, the state should be firmly responsible for making sure that educators have the resources and support they need, even with implementation being locally driven. This doesn’t take a lot of bureaucracy; it takes skillful leveraging of resources and information in the system, coordinating resources and information so it’s easy for educators on the ground to find and access what they need, and making sure state resources are directed in ways that respond to what educators tell us they need.

    The California Department of Education and the state superintendent have been moving in this very direction with the establishment of a small Standards Support Office, a structure other states have adopted successfully, to enable better coordination in the system.

  4. Bruce William Smith 4 months ago4 months ago

    The Common Core State Standards have a long way to go before they are where we want them to be, which is internationally competitive. California, like the rest of the United States, can continue blundering forward in complete ignorance of what our chief economic competitors are teaching their kids, or it can pressure the Council of Chief School Officers to revise the standards so that American mathematics students who have achieved them according to their … Read More

    The Common Core State Standards have a long way to go before they are where we want them to be, which is internationally competitive. California, like the rest of the United States, can continue blundering forward in complete ignorance of what our chief economic competitors are teaching their kids, or it can pressure the Council of Chief School Officers to revise the standards so that American mathematics students who have achieved them according to their intended pace are not ipso facto three years behind the Chinese and two years behind most other developed countries whose students they may end up sitting beside, and envying, in engineering courses inside California’s leading universities.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 4 months ago4 months ago

      When will people get tired of hyping the importance of international tests scores? Likely never, no matter how useless they are, as long as there are agendas that benefit from the comparisons. Let's begin and end with the fact that most other nations do not educate, nor do they test, in comprehensive high school settings. There are tracking differences, age differences, demographic and diversity differences that make the comparisons of scores meaningless. Let's move on to the … Read More

      When will people get tired of hyping the importance of international tests scores? Likely never, no matter how useless they are, as long as there are agendas that benefit from the comparisons.

      Let’s begin and end with the fact that most other nations do not educate, nor do they test, in comprehensive high school settings. There are tracking differences, age differences, demographic and diversity differences that make the comparisons of scores meaningless.

      Let’s move on to the real test, that of international economic competitiveness and production measured in GDP and GNP. These measures, driven by a U.S. workforce predominately educated in U.S. public schools, lead the rest of the world often by 2 to 1 or greater. This has been true for decades except for those periods when U.S. competitiveness was hindered by recessions driven by malfeasance and misfeasance in the financial sector driven by people predominately educated in what are loosely called the U.S. “elite institutions.”

      The one measure indicated by international test scores that ought to be closely attended to, but never is, is the almost one-to-one correlation between high scores and low child poverty rates.

      • Bruce William Smith 4 months ago4 months ago

        Your economic competitiveness argument is to the point (your poverty argument isn't, but I want to focus on the one that better deserves being taken seriously), so I'll address it. The two major surveys of national economic competitiveness that consider education's contribution to that competitiveness are those of the International Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum -- their rankings of education systems' abilities to meet the needs of economically competitive economies are … Read More

        Your economic competitiveness argument is to the point (your poverty argument isn’t, but I want to focus on the one that better deserves being taken seriously), so I’ll address it. The two major surveys of national economic competitiveness that consider education’s contribution to that competitiveness are those of the International Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum — their rankings of education systems’ abilities to meet the needs of economically competitive economies are read by international executives who decide where to locate businesses and therefore employment — and they rank the U.S. education system 23rd among 25 leading economies, ahead of only Spain and Russia, and far below the leaders, Finland, Singapore, and Switzerland.

        • Gary Ravani 4 months ago4 months ago

          Recall the 1985 document A Nation At Risk that, using various international "indicators" and test scores predicted the US would lose (if it had not already lost) its relative competitiveness. Since that time, except for a few years, the US has, at least according to the World Economic Forum, led the world in economic competitiveness. According to the WEF the US is now #3 in the world and up from #7 of a few years … Read More

          Recall the 1985 document A Nation At Risk that, using various international “indicators” and test scores predicted the US would lose (if it had not already lost) its relative competitiveness. Since that time, except for a few years, the US has, at least according to the World Economic Forum, led the world in economic competitiveness. According to the WEF the US is now #3 in the world and up from #7 of a few years ago. In describing the US fall and rise the WEF cites nothing about education,with the total reason for the decline attributed to “instability in the financial markets.” This appears to be a euphemism for the malfeasance and misfeasance of the finance industry and Wall Street shenanigans leading to the Great Recession.

          Also recall the statement of several years ago, by what I recall was the British Minister of “the economy:” “When one looks at international tests scores and the performance of the US economy, one can only conclude that there is something wrong with…the test scores.”

  5. Brad Huff 4 months ago4 months ago

    There are so many comments online supporting the idea that we are making a huge mistake rolling out the Common Core in all grades K through grade 12 simultaneously. I agree. For the Common Core standards to be most successful, they should have been phased in starting with kindergarten and adding a year each year. The middle school and high school standards depend, at least to a lesser or greater degree, on having been exposed to … Read More

    There are so many comments online supporting the idea that we are making a huge mistake rolling out the Common Core in all grades K through grade 12 simultaneously. I agree.

    For the Common Core standards to be most successful, they should have been phased in starting with kindergarten and adding a year each year. The middle school and high school standards depend, at least to a lesser or greater degree, on having been exposed to the Common Core standards in elementary school.

  6. navigio 4 months ago4 months ago

    Some of the state approved resources *are* online materials, which appears contradict one of the statements in the story.
    In addition, materials can be (and likely always are) approved by local boards, which would obviously only happen with guidance from district leaders. And many of those options are ones already being used in other states (ie approved elsewhere).

Template last modified: