So it's been a few years since the Common Core, and wow, has it been a wild ride! Some states have dropped the CCSS altogether and replaced them with similar standards. Some still have the CCSS, but have opted out of the tests related to them. Parents are also choosing to have their students opt out from these high-stakes tests. Some teachers are reporting the rigorous learning happening in their classrooms, while others are concerned about the appropriate level of the rigor. Textbook companies have been called out on their true lack of aligned materials, and great teachers have been creating their own lessons and units to meet their students' needs.
Throughout all this, schools and districts have spent a lot of time on implementing the standards. I've had the privilege of visiting many schools that are implementing the CCSS and have learned a lot from these visits. Here are some of my major takeaways for making sure that implementation works.
A View From the Front Lines
Ongoing and Job-Embedded Professional Development
I've asked teachers about the professional development they have received for CCSS. Those who are struggling received a "spray and pray" two-day institute (or similar) on the standards. We know this doesn't work, and yet we still do it -- and it has got to stop. Teachers deserve more. They deserve to be supported in an ongoing manner. Why are teachers bitter about these one or two professional development days? Because they know that they won't likely receive much support afterward. Who wouldn't be bitter? Those teachers who feel successful speak of instructional coaches that supported them, planning time to work on lessons and units with other teachers, reflection protocols, and common meeting times to look at student. This should be commonplace!
Clear Connection to Instruction
Standards themselves are abstract and not clearly connected to the how of teaching. Teachers who struggled were able to comprehend the standards themselves, but weren't given tools to refine their teaching in order to meet the standards. On the other hand, those teachers who were successful received instructional tools like text-dependent questioning or close-reading strategies. Maybe their school implemented CCSS through an engaging model of learning like project-based learning or understanding by design. Here instruction was the focus, and teachers knew how to align to the Common Core through practical strategies and curriculum design.
Focus on Assessment, Not Testing
Although the high-stakes tests were in place, I found that many schools didn't focus so much on these tests. Yes, they embedded test-like performance assessments and similar practices into their curriculum, but they focused more on great assessment practices. They assessed how their students were learning and used that information to inform their instruction. They helped their students set goals, and they set clear outcomes for learning. They created their own more engaging assessments of learning. They focused on what assessment should be, not how to react when it gets out of hand.
Leverage Teacher Leaders
Capacity building, focusing on teacher leadership, and telling great teacher success stories can build a culture of success. I visited some schools where, in addition to providing professional development to all teachers, they asked for volunteers and selected teachers to serve as leaders. These teachers in turn would lead professional learning, invite other teachers to visit their classrooms, and build exemplar lessons and units to support their colleagues. Here, the implementation was sustainable. Now there was a group of highly-skilled teachers who would remain to carry on the work, and their skills were honored and leveraged.
The Right Way
Frankly, using the implementation of the CCSS as a case study, I think the ideas above should be considered no matter what initiative or focus is being introduced within a school or district. All teachers should know how professional development relates directly to their practice. All teachers should be given practical tools for implementation. All teachers should receive ongoing, embedded professional development. They should be leveraged for their expertise and leadership. And finally, we should focus on assessment and move away from our focus on standardized testing.
I urge all leaders in the education field to live up to these practices as they lead their teachers, schools, districts, and states in implementing new teaching practices and methods.