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Drinking From the Fountain

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“You can’t know what it means to drink from the fountain of the Common Core Student Standards (CCSS) unless you ate the dust of NCLB, “ said Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association.

Analyze, evaluate, determine, integrate and assess.  As Eskelsen noted, these are the kinds of verbs that make teachers salivate, particularly after experiencing years of NCLB where cut scores ruled.  Who wouldn’t want their students to be able to fully develop these higher order thinking skills?  However, how do we prepare teachers to teach to these standards, and how do we measure our performance in a way that is meaningful, valid, reliable, and fair?

These ideas and more were discussed at the AEI forum, Common Core meets the reform agenda, with both policy makers and practitioners delving into the CCSS and discussing their impact on issues such as evaluation, policy and charter schools.  While most panelists acknowledged the positive potential impact of CCSS on the culture of learning, some noted that if standards implementation is done poorly, steered by politics, and rushed, both CCSS and evaluation reform will fail. To maximize benefit, the CCSS need to be implemented faithfully, which for now may mean taking it slow and adopting the culture needed to be successful as well as the standards.

It was noted that there is a disconnect between policy and implementation, which became evident as the panelists engaged in discussion.  Educators realized that the CCSS represent a culture shift to one where collaboration is the rule of the day, but not just in our schools. Linda Darling Hammond pointed out that in other high achieving countries, higher education works with K-12 to help develop the standards and plan implementation, and teacher preparation programs are aligned to these standards; she also noted that standards documents tend to be slimmer in these nations.

In policy development, our state education agencies (SEAs) will also have to collaborate more thoroughly with schools and districts, as well as with the USED.   Communication will have to improve on all levels, because as one panelist noted, if there is no buy-in from teachers, the initiative is dead.

When it comes to the CCSS, most agreed that having a uniform set of rigorous skills that students need to master is a good thing, but that an idea without a plan is just a dream.  Josh Parker, (2012 MD STOY) asked the question most educators want answered, namely, how are we going to teach teachers to teach the standards?  Kimberly Worthy (2009 DC STOY) talked about the need for resources, collaboration and cross-curricular integration in order for implementation to be successful.

While some panelists urged caution in using CCSS assessments as a measure of teacher effectiveness, particularly before they are validated for such use, Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education pointed out that, . if we were using student test performance as the only measure to evaluate teachers, we should be worried. However, we are planning to use multiple measures, including student test performance, and waiting will mean that students do not get the help that they need now, in some cases. He also questioned whether delaying implementation actually leads to doing it better.

Conclusions?  It was clear by the end of the day that there are still many areas of disagreement when it comes to CCSS, but some common themes emerged, including idea that the CCSS have real potential to improve teaching and help us learn what effective teaching looks like.  To be successful, this culture shift will take time, resources, collaboration and communication.   As one panelist stated, implementation is too important for us to get wrong.




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