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Keeping Up With Common Core

Useful updates and information for education leaders… brought to you by EdSource

This Common Core update web page is produced in conjunction with our ‘Leading Change’ newsletter, which focuses on the range of new California academic standards — from the Common Core standards in English language arts and math, to the Next Generation Science Standards and the history-social science standards — as well as how schools are held accountable for measuring progress on them. You can subscribe to the newsletter here to receive this information twice a month via email. 

May, 2017

Instructional improvement, immigration rights and equity

High school students in a classroom

Courtesy of AIR

High school students in a classroom

As high school math teachers in California strive to improve student achievement, they may be interested to hear about a network of educators  studying ways to make math more interesting. Kirk Walters, a former math teacher from San Bernardino High who is now a researcher with the American Institutes for Research, talked to EdSource about how California teachers could set up their own networks to try out new instructional strategies and share what worked and what didn’t. Three keys to engage students, he said, are: teacher excitement and curiosity about their subject matter, exploring underlying concepts and pushing students to explain their answers, and presenting teens with novel problems where the answers aren’t immediately apparent.

Also this month, education leader Carl Cohn said fears about immigration rights and the possibility of deportation among families with undocumented members heighten the need for

Carl Cohn, executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence

Credit: Courtesy of Claremont Graduate University

Carl Cohn, executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence

schools to provide safe spaces for students and to consider offering services such as counseling or other resources.

And, a new report prepared by a team of researchers who are members of a Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative shows some districts aren’t spending their targeted Local Control funding in ways that will specifically help low-income students, foster youth and English learners.

Have you listened to “This Week in California Education,” EdSource’s new podcast yet?  We are adding new features and voices every week to give you more insight into our stories, so subscribe through iTunes or Stitcher and let us know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

Theresa Harrington and Erin Brownfield


Student achievement and test score growth on Smarter Balanced assessments

Students discuss work in chemistry class at Skyline High in Oakland.

Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource (2014)

Students discuss work in class.

A recent Public Policy Institute of California study shows that on average California school children did much better in 2015-16 than they did in 2014-15 on the Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and math.

Results for English Learners and low-income students, however, show achievement gaps are not closing. The report concludes that districts with a large number of struggling students may need more guidance from the state and suggests they look to schools and districts that have had greater success with high-need students for improvement ideas. Here are some of the findings:

  • About 49 percent of students met standards in English Language Arts in 2016, while 37 percent met the standard in mathematics.  These percentages were somewhat lower than those in 14 other large states using the Smarter Balanced assessments, but the increases in achievement levels from the previous year were nearly twice as large in California, which grew by 9 percentage points, compared to an average 5 percentage point growth in the other states.
  • The percentage of low-income students and English Learners meeting the standards increased, but these increases were not at fast enough rates to close substantial achievement gaps with higher income students who are fluent in English.
  • Fewer students in districts where more than 55 percent of students are from low income families or are English Learners met the standards on the state tests. About 33 percent of students met the standards in those districts, compared to about 60 percent for districts with fewer high-need students.
  • Most districts saw similar growth regardless of their percentages of disadvantaged students. But districts where students scored low and did not show significant growth in scores from one year to the next tended to have higher percentages of high-need students. These results were considered “especially troubling because they indicate that disadvantaged students are falling further behind.”

Read the entire report here.

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month

With passage of the Local Control Funding Formula, California became the first state to require schools to consider how best to serve a small subset of at-risk students: youth in foster care.According to 2016 California Department of Education data, in English language arts, 56.2 percent of foster students did not meet standards on the Smarter Balanced tests (compared to 30.5 percent of  non-foster students) and for mathematics, 64 percent of foster students did not meet standards (compared to 37.3 percent of non-foster students).

The following resources provide more information about the state’s nearly 70,000 foster youth, as well as some strategies for schools and districts:

  • In 2016, The CDE released accountability data on how foster youth performed in the 2014-15 school year. You can search for data broken down by school, district or county on Data Quest at this link. Select “foster” under the Subject pulldown menu.
  • The National Center for Youth Law has released a report on how foster youth are faring under local control, which is available at this link.  The report includes promising and innovative examples of district approaches to including foster youth in LCAPs.
  • The Alliance for Children’s Rights has created a helpful guide to improving education outcomes for California children in foster care. Updated in late 2016, the Foster Youth Education Toolkit includes step-by-step procedures and implementation tools to help districts engage in best practices when educating foster youth.


New studies suggest choice of curriculum and textbooks can make a big difference for students

Have you ever wondered if textbook choice really makes a difference? Choosing better curriculum materials can indeed lead to gains in student achievement, according to a report in the The 74. “Multiple research studies meeting the highest bar for methodological rigor find substantial learning impacts from the adoption of specific curricula. The impact on student learning can be profound,” wrote Johns Hopkins University’s David Steiner in a review of research. Read more

‘Nature Bowl’ competition connects environmental awareness and new science standards

A science teaching idea that could spread: Third- to sixth-graders from 22 schools in the Sacramento region recently competed in an annual science-based educational program, Nature Bowl XXXII. Students learned about the environment while building teamwork skills, according to the Sacramento Bee. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife coordinates the event and the program curriculum corresponds with California’s Next Generation Science Standards. Read more

April 25, 2017

Graduation rates rise, but questions about equity remain

California got some good news this month: high school graduation rates ticked up for the seventh year in a row to 83.2 percent (though some significant achievement gaps are still in place). In addition, the dropout rate fell to less than 10 percent, down from 16.6 percent in 2010.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson attributed the improvement to recent reforms, including the Local Control Funding Formula. But, as EdSource’s John Fensterwald reports, not everyone is such an ardent fan of local control. Student advocates such as the nonprofit Education Trust–West are calling for more transparency to allow the public to follow the money. Without improved accountability, they say, all we can do is “wonder whether this massive public experiment and investment is paying off.”

EdSource has created a database that families and educators can use to look up how well their districts and schools are doing in getting students their diplomas within four years. They can also search for dropout rates and measurements of how many students are taking more than four years to finish high school. Here is the link to search district by districtUse this link to research individual high schools.

Noted educator and lecturer Jeff Duncan-Andrade says the state can’t rely on its funding formula alone to achieve equity for all California students. Instead, he says in an EdSource Q and A that educators and society must view all the state’s children as “our children” and must ensure that we are meeting their diverse needs.

And for a new way to follow these and other important education issues, we invite you to listen to “This Week in California Education,” EdSource’s new podcast. Once you do, let us know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

Theresa Harrington and Erin Brownfield


“Mathematical Mindsets” online math course for teachers

The YouCubed math center at Stanford University, formed by well-known Stanford professor and math expert Jo Boaler, is offering a new online course for math teachers beginning June 5.

The course, designed for math teachers working with students from kindergarten through college, is based on Boaler’s book, Mathematical Mindsets. Read an EdSource Q and A with Boaler about her book here. It is Common Core-aligned and includes research on the best ways children and adults learn math. It also explains instructional approaches educators can use to foster a growth mindset in their students.

Boaler demonstrates techniques she used to teach math to 6th-and 7th-graders, which raised their test scores by 50 percent. The course also features  comments from growth mindset guru Carol Dweck and mathematician Steven Strogatz.

The class includes 30 videos, takes 30 hours to complete and costs $99 per person. Teachers are encouraged to discuss the videos and math topics with other participants in an online class community.

For more information, or to pre-enroll, visit https://www.youcubed.org/how-to-learn-math-for-teachers-and-parents-copy/.

Looking for Resources for National Poetry Month?

April may or may not be “the cruellest month,” but it’s definitely a good time to think about how to bring poetry into into the classroom and help students discover the poet in themselves.

Teach this Poem Each week, this website features a poem and resources for interdisciplinary teaching and student activities for teachers of kindergarten through grade 12.

Poetry Foundation Poems for children on holidays and nature, from different countries and regions, and in blank verse or rhymed stanzas are featured on this website, along with resources for teachers and parents.

Poetry Out Loud provides resources for teachers, including a complete teacher guide and lesson plans, to teach students how to perform poetry.


Learn from the early implementers: New report calls out best practices for profession learning around Next Generation Science Standards  

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts: Professional Learning is a new 18-page report that shares insights from eight traditional school districts and two charter management organizations in California that took part in a project intended to build school system capacity for implementing NGSS. The idea was to monitor “early implementer” districts and share their reflections on what was needed to introduce the new science standards into state classrooms.

Read more

STEM Blossoms in California Salad Bowl

In an article for Education Week, Charles Taylor Kerchner tells the story of two Imperial Valley teachers who started the Imperial Valley Discovery Zone, which excites 2nd graders with the scientific method and opens doors in STEM colleges for high school students. The concept is pretty straightforward: get high school students to present highly engaging, interactive, standards-based science lessons to elementary school students beginning with 7- and 8-year-olds.

Read more

March 24, 2017

EdSource School Dashboard Database and more

The release of a new California School Dashboard – featuring ratings of schools and districts according to several accountability criteria – was big news recently.

Several EdSource stories have highlighting the pros and cons of the dashboard, as well as new “5×5 reports” that show how well schools or student subgroups are doing in specific categories.

Also, we’d like to draw your attention to our searchable EdSource California School Dashboard database, which includes comparison features not available on the state’s website. Our site shows side-by-side color-coded ratings for every category currently available in schools and districts. Our database also includes a “comparison clipboard” that allows users to easily click on a school or district and paste it onto an online clipboard, then add more schools or districts to see how they stack up next to each other.

Also of note in this update is a Q & A with a USC professor about the challenges teachers face in implementing the Common Core state standards and a new online guide to the standards created by the university.

Thanks for reading!

Theresa Harrington and Erin Brownfield


New California School Dashboard

The California Department of Education and other organizations have created several resources to help educators and the public understand and navigate the new California School Dashboard, which includes data that will be used for school and district accountability purposes beginning next fall.

These resources include:

  • California Department of Education Communications Toolkit.
  • Alameda County Office of Education Dashboard website, including video and infographics.
  • Ed100 Dashboard explanatory blog.
  • EdSource searchable database with “comparisons clipboard.”

EdReports Curriculum Reviews

The nonprofit organization EdReports, which reviews curriculum materials based on their alignment to Common Core standards in math and English language arts, recently released six new reports, including two for math and four for English language arts instruction. The reports include color-coded ratings that show whether or not materials are aligned to the standards. Green signifies they are aligned, yellow shows partial alignment and red designates lack of alignment. If materials are at least partially aligned, EdReports reviewers also rate the usability of the materials for students and teachers using the same color-coded system.

The new reports review:

The organization has also launched a California-specific website called the California Curriculum Collaborative, created in partnership with Pivot Learning, which also lists all Common Core curriculum materials recommended by the state Board of Education.

EdReports Seeks Curriculum Reviewers

EdReports relies on educators from across the country to review curriculum materials for its website. The nonprofit organization is currently seeking experts to serve as Content Reviewers. More details and an online application are available here. 

Johns Hopkins University reviews academic programs based on research

The Center for Research and Reform in Education in the School of Education at the John Hopkins University launched a new website earlier this month to help educators and administrators evaluate K-12 math and reading programs according to requirements established in the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. However, the U.S. Senate later voted to rescind accountability regulations under that law.

Still, anyone interested in learning about evidence-based programs may find the website, called Evidence for ESSA, useful.

It relies on the center’s faculty, along with scholarly studies, to determine an academic program’s effectiveness.

The website was established to function like a consumer report aimed at determining how well programs were vetted, said Robert Slavin, director of the center, in a university article.

“State chiefs, district superintendents, and principals are the primary audience —the people making decisions about programs for schoolchildren,” he said. “But there are many other people — parents and teachers, for example — who could use this information to advocate for particular programs that they think would be better for their kids. And we hope they will.”

Read more here.

In other news

New teacher tenure bill introduced

AB 1220, a bill that would lengthen the probationary period for new teachers, was introduced this week by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

Called the Teacher and Student Success Act, the bill would extend the probationary period before teachers receive tenure to three years, up from the current period of two years. According to the LA School Report, under the bill teachers who don’t meet the requirements in three years could receive a fourth or fifth year to receive additional mentoring and professional development.

Common Core critics built social media ‘Botnets’ to skew the education debate, says report

In an article for The 74, Kevin Mahnken writes that researchers with the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education released a report from the #commoncore project, suggesting that public animosity toward Common Core was amplified and manipulated by organized online communities using cutting-edge social media strategies.  Read more

March 7, 2017

Leading Change newsletter now includes expanded Common Core update

Welcome to EdSource’s new Common Core update web page, which is being produced in conjunction with our updated ‘Leading Change’ newsletter. The newsletter now has an expanded focus: the range of new California academic standards — from the Common Core standards in English language arts and math, to the Next Generation Science Standards and the history-social science standards — as well as how schools will be held accountable for measuring their progress on them.

You can subscribe to the newsletter here. Subscribers will find the newsletter in their email inbox twice a month. Additional resources can be found at our math and science page.

We will update our website often with relevant news, interviews, events and opportunities to participate in online #EdSourceChats. You can also engage us via Twitter.

We’d also like to hear your ideas and strategies for implementing California academic standards that we can share with others in the field.  And please share this link to our Common Core web page with your friends and colleagues.

Thanks for reading!

Theresa Harrington and Erin Brownfield

Common Core Standards: What educators are saying

Across the country, teachers are adapting their instructional practices to the new Common Core standards in math and English language arts. A recent report, called Listening and Learning from Teachers: A Summary of Focus Groups on the Common Core and Assessments, reveals support, concerns and insights about the standards expressed by elementary teachers in Delaware, Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin. The teachers also discussed how the standards are affecting curricula and instructional materials, testing, student achievement data and accountability.

Although California teachers were not involved in these discussions, many of the comments shared may ring true for those working to implement the standards in this state.

If you’d like to weigh in on how standards are affecting instruction in your school, please participate in our Common Core #EdSourceChat!

Read more

Physics professor defends a key feature of Common Core math

Writing for Forbes, author and physics professor Chad Orzel defends Common Core math’s emphasis on explaining how students get their answers. “Forcing students to not just generate numbers but understand and explain the process they used is one of the best developments I’ve seen in the math my kids are learning. I hope they keep this up all the way through school, because it will make them better scientists or engineers (should they choose to go that route), and just better thinkers in general.” Read more

What are states actually changing about Common Core?

According to a new analysis highlighted in an article at Education Week, though 21 states are revising the Common Core standards or have already  done so, most of the changes are minor: “Nearly 70 percent of the changes that were made in either math or language arts across all grades were simply wording or format clarifications to make the standards easier for educators or the public to understand.” Read more.


Are immigration fears “palpable” in your district?

Tweet us at #EdSourceChat

Q & A’s on Common Core and other education issues

Q & A: Teaching math that isn’t boring to students

Kirk Walters, a managing researcher for American Institutes for Research, or AIR, talks about the Better Math Teaching Network in New England, which is testing new high school math instructional strategies to be shared with educators around the country.

Q & A: Educator and lecturer advocates for equity in education

Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, an associate professor and school teacher and leader in Oakland, says a focus on equity could lead to a Renaissance in education.

Q&A: USC associate professor discusses Common Core standards, new online guide

Dr. Corinne Hyde talks about Common Core controversy, standards implementation, tests, curriculum materials and USC’s online guide to the Common Core.

FAQ: What parents should know about the Common Core, by reporter Theresa Harrington

Q&A: Tips and insights from a Common Core math expert

Sean Nank, American College of Education professor, discusses Common Core math, instructional strategies, curriculum, and the beauty of patterns.

How is the new Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, affecting Common Core implementation?  

Interview with Anne Udall, of the New Teacher Center

Stanford professor urges teachers to rethink math instruction

Interview with Stanford professor Jo Boaler discussing her book, “Mathematical Mindsets.”

Upcoming Events

Science standards training around the state

The California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Office of Education, K12 Alliance @ WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association are teaming up to offer training inthe statewide rollout of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  Sessions, which are intended for district teams of 4-6, will be held throughout the statethrough December. This training focuses on using the California Science Framework to implement the NGSS.

Dates and locations are as follows:

June 7, 8

Host: Los Angeles COE/Orange Department of Education,

Location: Norwalk (Excelsior High School)

August 22, 23

Host: San Bernardino COE/ Riverside COE

Location: University of California, Riverside

September 12, 13

Host: Alameda COE

Location: California State University (CSU), East Bay, Hayward

November 7, 8

Host: San Diego COE

Location: Marina Village

November 8, 9

Host: Fresno COE

Location: Radisson Hotel, Fresno

November 14, 15

Host: Siskiyou COE

Location: CSU Chico

November 29, 30

Host: Ventura COE

Location: Camarillo

December 4, 5

Host: Santa Clara COE

Location: San Jose

The cost is $250 per attendee, which includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch for both days. Click here for more details.  Register online or contact Amy Kennedy by e-mail at akennedy@sjcoe.net or by phone at 209-468-9027.

EdSource’s annual education conference

Registration opens soon for the 2017 EdSource Symposium, Education For All: Serving California’s Vulnerable Children, which will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Oakland Convention Center. This will be EdSource’s 40th anniversary symposium. Save the date and watch for more details to follow at EdSource.org.

California History-Social Science Framework Rollout Events, through Nov. 1

California County Offices of Education and the California History-Social Science Project are each hosting several “rollout events” to introduce educators and administrators to the state’s new History-Social Science Framework, or guidelines, adopted by the state Board of Education last July.

Workshops and informational sessions at the one-day events will cover: U.S. history, world history, K-12 inquiry, K-12 literacy, economics, civics and citizenship, geography, environmental literacy, ethnic studies, professional development, assessments, access and equity, and administrator sessions.

Events hosted by the California History-Social Science Project will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Santa Clara County Office of Education and Oct. 11 at Cal Poly Pomona. Cost is $225 per person. Registration and more information is at http://chssp.ucdavis.edu/programs/framework.

Events hosted by County Offices of Education will be held Sept. 7 at the Ventura County Office of Education and Nov. 1 at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Cost is $125 per person. Registration and more information is at https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1902177.

5th annual California STEAM Symposium in San Francisco, December 10-11, 2017

The 2017 California STEAM Symposium (formerly STEM Symposium) brings together nearly 3,000 educators from across the state to discuss improved STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) instruction for K-12 students. The event provides educators with professional learning opportunities, as well as resources to support high quality instruction.

More information and registration details are at: http://www.stemcalifornia.org

Forty-three states, including California, have adopted the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts. An initiative spurred by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core state Standards define skills that students should have mastered by the end of each grade in order to graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and the workplace. In the spring of 2015, California students took the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned with the standards for the first time. The 2016 results showed growth statewide, as teachers and students became more familiar with the standards.
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Common Core Explained

The Common Core State Standards are designed to improve students' chances of success in college and careers by setting uniform standards for what students should know in math and English language arts by the end of each school year, and by the time they graduate from high school. An initiative spurred by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core State Standards have been adopted by forty-three states, but some have since announced major rewrites or replacements, leaving 30 states, plus the District of Columbia sticking to the standards.

Among the major instructional changes are: a substantial increase in the amount of non-fiction reading and writing, a greater emphasis on collaborative activities, and the expectation that math students are not only able to solve problems but explain how they did so.

Beginning in 2015, California students in grades 3-8 and 11 took the Smarter Balanced assessments – a battery of tests in English language arts and math that was designed to assess how well students were doing in those subjects based on instruction they received using the Common Core standards. In most school districts, these tests for the first time were taken on computers, with questions that adjusted in real time to students' answers.

California, home to one in eight of the nation's public school students, is crucial to the success of the Common Core. Conditions seem especially favorable for implementing the standards in California, at least compared to many other states. Both Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators support the Common Core, as do the state's major teachers' unions.

At the same time, California faces significant challenges in implementing the standards in its racially, ethnically, and economically diverse school system. Nearly 60 percent of California's more than 6 million students qualify for free or reduced price meals. In many districts, the percentage is far higher than that. In addition, more than one in four California public-school students are classified as English learners, one of the highest shares in the country. Finally, more than 300,000 teachers, along with principals and other school administrators, needed to be educated about the new standards before they could implement them.

EdSource Resources


A number of organizations have published online Common Core resources. Following are some of sites explaining various aspects of the Common Core State Standards:

Frequently Asked Questions

Several organizations have compiled lists of frequently asked questions regarding the Common Core State Standards. Here are some of the sites answering these questions from a range of perspectives.

EdSource Today is tracking a small number of California school districts in diverse regions of the state as they implement the Common Core State Standards. These stories highlight the challenges that educators, parents and students are facing as well as the progress they are making through the 2016-17 school year. The districts EdSource is following are: Elk Grove Unified, Fresno Unified, Garden Grove Unified, San Jose Unified, Santa Ana Unified and Visalia Unified. In addition, EdSource is following the Aspire charter school system, which includes 35 schools throughout the state.

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