Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Common Core State Standards: 2014 is a Year Away

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

The arrival of 2013 brings us one year closer to the rollout of Common Core State Standard (CCSS) assessments, scheduled for 2014-15. As the deadline approaches, the complexities surrounding implementation of the standards and their accompanying assessments come into sharper focus. The issues listed below are hardly exhaustive, but they begin to convey the challenges of implementation facing our nation’s schools and districts.

First, there are many unanswered questions surrounding curriculum and pedagogy. The standards are high and previews of the assessment suggest that there are significant changes in store for teachers and students. This means that curriculum and teaching strategies will need to reflect the material and new ways of thinking and learning that the new assessments measure. Teachers will require support and professional development to ensure they are prepared to change their pedagogy and design lessons that reflect the higher levels of critical thinking and reasoning required by the standards. As the Common Core pushes towards a more interactive learning environment, there is a greater need for adaption of open source materials and digital textbooks – recommendations that can be found in Out of Print: Reimagining K12 Textbooks in a Digital Age. There is also the consideration of accommodations and adjustments for students with disabilities and English language learners.

A second critical component of CCSS rollout revolves around state and district technology needs and capacity, given the fact that the tests are designed to be computer-based. The two assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, recently released their recommendations for minimum requirements for devices and connectivity. The infrastructure challenges are significant, as many rural areas of the country still lack broadband internet access and many schools and districts can’t afford to install and maintain a 21st century technology environment. Even when districts work to make the initial investment, the long-term budget plans must reflect a commitment to maintenance and upgrades. The State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) also released a guide recently for states and districts. Their recommendations line up closely with the two consortiums. A recent study, Born in Another Time, released by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), highlighted the need for policies on the state level that help schools and districts use technology in appropriate ways. The need for these policies is immediate, not just for the implementation of Common Core, but also in the 21st century learning environment.

A third major concern is the level of public awareness surrounding Common Core, as it is a massive shift for public education. While support continues to exist, public education officials are concerned about the ramifications of drops in test scores that measure student performance. Higher standards and more challenging assessments mean an inevitable drop in scores for countless schools. Until the system adjusts to new expectations and students engage with material in new ways, lower test scores may raise concerns among parents and community members, leading to increased backlash for schools and districts. To that end, a public awareness campaign needs to prepare the general public for a potentially rocky transition.

The education community – with its millions of education professionals – is working to support states and districts in their Common Core implementation efforts, with leaders in the field developing a variety of supporting resources. Implementation requires extensive collaboration among stakeholders, from teachers to principals, and from district administrators to school boards. Members of the Learning First Alliance (LFA) are working to provide guidance, advice and resources for their members.  A compilation of these materials will be made available on the LFA web site as they are developed. The principal organizations – NAESP and NASSP – are producing overviews and resources for principals nationwide, encouraging them to create and foster cultures of collaboration and teamwork. The unions – AFT and NEA – are compiling lesson resources and curriculum advice for teachers and the National PTA is working to provide parents with information about the standards and what to expect for homework in their child’s backpack every night. You can view our recently released collection here.