Standards Implementation: Partners' Perspectives

Katie Pak
Monday, February 13, 2017

On November 18th, 2016, key administrators from the state departments of education in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas convened for “A Conversation on College- and Career-Readiness Standards” hosted by C-SAIL in Washington, D.C. Also in attendance were professional organizations representing teachers, principals, superintendents, and policymakers across the country. State officials shared their unique experiences regarding college- and career- readiness (CCR) standards implementation in their own states. Check out their lessons learned, favorite innovations, words advice, and more below.

Context

In California, a survey administered in March demonstrated teachers’ and principals’ strong support for the California Standards, which may be due to steady and aligned leadership. The governor, state superintendent, state board president, and members of the state board have been in their positions for at least the past six years, and they are in agreement about the CCR work moving forward. Part of this work involves the state department of education providing more support to California’s districts rather than focusing primarily on compliance.  They are also moving away from a single measure of schools to 10 measures of state education priorities.  

In 2009, the Kentucky state legislature passed a statute introducing college and career readiness. They were subsequently the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010. They then administered their first, home grown, CCR-aligned assessment in 2012. The 2016 elections brought about major political leadership changes in Kentucky: The House and Senate are now both Republican-controlled, joining a Republican governor who assumed the position a year ago. New legislation pertaining to education is likely on the horizon. However, as a local control state, ultimately districts and schools are the decision-makers on most education issues.

Massachusetts has been engaged in standards-based reform for over 20 years since the passage of the Education Reform Act of 1993. The state participated in the development of the CCSS, as these efforts coincided with their own decision to review and revise their standards anyway. In addition to adopting the CCSS in 2010, they added 22 more math standards and 24 more English language arts standards to their Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. In 2015, the state board of education voted to adopt a new assessment system and for the state to review their standards. The public has therefore had the opportunity to weigh in on the standards in a yearlong revision project, and the revisions will likely be implemented in the next school year.

Like Kentucky, Ohio has witnessed several leadership changes: they have had six state superintendents over an eight-year period. The public pressure regarding CCSS has caused the state to replace their PARCC assessment and to initiate a review of the standards. They will seek to make some changes to the math and English language standards, changes that will be presented to the state board of education in the near future, and refrain from repealing them entirely so as to not “break the system.”

Texas has been a leader in standards-based reform since the 1990s, which affords stability in state policy regarding standards implementation. In recent years, an anti-Common Core push has led to criticism of the Texas math and English language arts standards, even though they are separate sets of standards. The state is currently working on protecting their standards while also revising them to ensure a high level of rigor. They are also thinking more strategically about blending in assessment accountability with all aspects of work relating to the standards.

Innovative Activities

Each state official was asked to comment on a few of the innovative activities that their state has embarked on over the past several years of standards implementation.

  • In an effort to align the state department of education’s work with that of other state agencies, California launched their Standards Implementation Steering Committee approximately two years ago. The committee brought together leaders from the department of education, the state board of education, and the county superintendent’s agency. They are charged with envisioning full implementation of the CCR standards in a state as large as California. The committee created smaller collaboration committees comprised of experts in math, English language arts and English language development, science, and history. These collaboration committees operate as “think tanks” that work with the steering committee on leveraging state policies. Another product of the collaboration committees is the development of communities of practice in each subject area across the state. Participating in these communities of practice are high level educators who are involved with regional planning and implementation of the CCR standards. They help build the capacity of teachers in their respective regions to implement the rigorous learning expectations of the standards. These collaborations operate as a “great feedback loop both horizontally across these organizations and now vertically as well, as these organizations are starting to talk within the community of practice, collaboration committee, and steering committee.”
  • Kentucky’s strategy for rolling out their math and English language arts (ELA) standards involved building capacity at the local level through a network approach. They created a network for teachers and a network for instructional supervisors, which met approximately eight times a year for either one or two full days in one of eight regions across the state. Districts were invited to send three ELA teachers to the ELA network meetings, three math teachers to the math network meetings, and one special education teacher either to the ELA or math meetings. In these meetings, content specialists and teachers would not only dig into the standards and deconstruct them together, but also develop teacher leadership capacity so the teachers could distribute what their learned to their colleagues back in their district. In the instructional supervisor meetings, district teams also learned what their teachers were learning and how they could support their leadership at the local level.
  • Though Massachusetts’ strategy in the past was to give the standards and assessments to the districts and have them “figure out the middle,” their strategy now has increasingly been geared towards working with districts to help “figure out the middle.”. One way that the state has provided this support is to release approximately two hundred model curriculum units that are accessible to all students and that are aligned to the standards. The units exist not only in the core subject areas across all grade levels, but also in the vocational and technical subjects and in the arts. More recently, the state has released “What to Look For Documents” for principals evaluating teachers in subject areas they themselves may not have taught. Since educator evaluations are a key state mechanism for advancing the implementation of the Curriculum Frameworks, the What to Look For Documents are intended to help principals understand what exactly they should expect to see in their teachers’ classrooms.

Learning from Experience

State representatives reminded us that implementation is an iterative and time-consumingprocess.And as researchers Michael G. Fullan and Matthew B. Miles pointed out in 1992, “Change is a process of coming to grips with new personal meaning, and so it is a learning process… Moreover, reforms that aim at structuring are so multifaceted and complex that solutions for any particular setting cannot be known in advance.” Thus, no state conceptualizes an implementation plan perfectly the first time something new is attempted. It is therefore incredibly important for state leaders to seek out and openly acknowledge the challenges, the unintended consequences, and the limitations of nascent implementation strategies. Taking on this learning stance for the sake of continuous improvement is a valuable characteristic of leadership. Below are some examples of some of the challenges that state leaders learned from and are now addressing:

  • California recognized that they need to work more closely with school leaders, who require more training on the curriculum frameworks so they may select the curriculum that is best for the population of students at their respective schools.
  • In Kentucky, “what we did that first year is no longer what is expected in the third year, it has evolved.” The focus on career pathways in the accountability system lead to the unintended consequence of some principals making decisions to secure points for more favorable accountability ratings by “forcing [students] to take… a pathway that really did not benefit them.”
  • Having learned that “it’s not sufficient to just create the standards and hope people implement them,” Massachusetts is eager for the “fresh start with our districts” posed by the revisions to their state standards. This time around, they have the chance to really help districts understand changes in the standards, what the changes mean, and how to implement them differently.
  • Ohio acknowledged that a big challenge “is our role to add more noise to the system and add more tools to it, or should we be trying to help them determine what tolls are available to them now and which ones are direct toward what their needs are.” The state website is a major resource that Ohio department of education officials are attempting to make more user friendly for teachers.
  • The high population of English language learners in Texas has posed “an internal conflict around accountability.” Teachers were asked to both support English language proficiency and still hold children accountable for learning content, which may be “de facto creating an achievement gap for them five years down the road.”   

On Our Radar

Below are some of the exciting new state initiatives that C-SAIL will track as our research progresses.

  • California has set aside money for leadership development within schools. They are also hoping to convene leadership teams of teachers and principals within each region of the state. These teams will plan together and help hold each other accountable to the implementation of these plans.
  • Massachusetts is rethinking their educator preparation with a grant from the Gates Foundation. One aspect of teacher education they have recently changed is requiring students in teacher education programs to participate in a candidate assessment of performance, which reflects the educator evaluation system in Massachusetts. Teacher candidates are evaluated based on some of the criteria they will be evaluated on when they enter the classroom so they can better understand the expectations of teaching.
  • This year, Texas is piloting micro-credentialing opportunities in the area of governance competence for school board members and competence in specific strands in the standards for teachers. Teachers’ lessons are getting videotaped so they can receive feedback on their direct work with students. They are also developing a library of resources and participating in a lesson study to support in-depth professional learning about the standards. Preliminary feedback indicate that teachers are feeling more confident in teaching the standards, especially in elementary math.

Advice

Our state officials have each held impressive tenures in the field of public education and offered an array of advice to attendees.

The Virtue of Patience

“I would say that you can both be patient and have a sense of urgency, and I think that’s been one of the lessons learned from California, that being patient doesn’t mean that you’re, you’re lagging behind. You can often be moving ahead even more quickly with, with a patient approach. Just don’t force fits. If you’ve got something that doesn’t fit with your vision for your state or your agency or whatever system you’re working within don’t force something to make it happen.”

School Leadership

“Don’t forget the school leaders. Often when we’re talking about standards implementation, as we should, we go straight to the classroom, straight to the teachers, and that is the right place to be to start with, but often in these movements the principals get left behind and we know that principals are driving forces within their schools for change for kids. And so while that, while that emphasis on the classroom teacher is the right, the right motivation, the right place to be just don’t forget the school leader.”

Teacher Preparation

“We need to train teachers in beyond just the academics is how to work in the professional learning community. Any school that I’ve ever been a part of that was really successful where you see those really terrific things happening, especially with kids that need it most, there’s a professional learning community happening that’s hovering around a cycle of inquiry. And if we could somehow insert that into co-, teacher prep programs that would go a long way because then you solve your own problems with practice, whatever your context is. And when you talk about the classrooms of today and the classrooms of tomorrow if you can operate, and I don't think will professional learning communities ever go to vote, I don't think, I think that’s one thing that we can just kind of count on that collaboration is where it’s at.”

Messaging to Teachers

“We have had enormous response whenever we’ve asked for educator involvement around the test, whether it’s content advisory committees, fairness committees, whether it was re-visioning the standards because we did an advisory board and then we had a teacher working groups at each of the grade levels or grade bands. And so you know I think what I’ve heard in all the time there is I think teachers really welcome a clear message as to what they are to teach. I think that’s what they’re asking for, but I think in Ohio what we haven’t provided for them is this ability and knowing this is going to be around because we have been reactionary, and if, if some group complains loud enough maybe we’ll get something changed.”

Stability for Teachers

“And so you know I feel like we have, we have punished those folks that have done what we've asked them to do because we keep changing it, and we’ve rewarded the ones that have said okay we’re not going to do it until we see it’s going to be there and it’s going to change anyway before we get there, so we’re not going to bother. So I think, you know what I think the vast majority is they want, you know they welcome the standards, they welcome to know what they’re supposed to do, they like having a voice in it, but they’re frustrated that it doesn’t stay around long enough to see what’s going to happen.”

More detailed accounts of state initiatives are available in our Year 1 Partner State Reports and our Year 1 Cross State Analysis (coming soon!).

Reference

Fullan, M. G., & Miles, M. B. (1992). Getting reform right: What works and what doesn't. The Phi Delta Kappan, 73(10), 744-752.