Concerns about how the Common Core State Standards are rolling out in schools across the country are legitimate – but not insurmountable, according to a report released Wednesday.
The key to successfully implementing the Common Core State Standards centers around giving teachers the support and training they need to adjust instruction, basing teacher evaluations on multiple measures of success and gradually phasing in the new tests – and high-stakes consequences – aligned with the standards. And there is also an opportunity for states to learn from each other, the report, released by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, argues.
"We're responding to the fact that a lot of the debate around Common Core, we feel, is being fueled by a lot of inaccurate information and a lot of people trying to win political points on the backs of students," says Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress. "Big picture, our goal … is to try to reset the debate and refocus the conversation on what the real challenges and successes are for the move towards higher college- and career-ready standards."
Backlash to the standards, Martin says, has been "transparently politically motivated."
"You see these governors where they weren’t just endorsing the standards, they were part of the charge towards these new standards," Martin says, referring to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's recent about-face toward Common Core. "And you see some folks from the extreme right attacking them as federal overreach and then you see political leaders reversing themselves."
But it is important to note that criticism of Common Core hasn't just come from conservative leaders. Traditionally liberal teachers unions have criticized the implementation (American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the rollout has been "far worse" than Obamacare) and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, has made it clear the consequences of testing should be delayed.
The solution to those challenges, Martin says, is to bring transparency to the politics involved in the backlash and show success stories of states that are successfully implementing the standards.
The report seeks to create a road map for states to overcome challenges with implementation, and points to states – including Connecticut, Kentucky and North Carolina – where putting the standards into action has been more successful.
The group proposes phasing in the consequences associated with the Common Core-aligned assessments, which are expected to be fully implemented and administered in the coming school year. Those standardized tests hold important outcomes for both students and teachers. Some states use student scores on standardized tests for grade promotion, and they're also often factored into teacher evaluations and personnel decisions.
While some groups – such the legislature in New York, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the AFT – have supported a delay in using the outcomes of the tests, others such as Tennessee's legislative leaders want to delay both the testing and the use of the scores.
The CAP proposal comes somewhere in the middle. The group suggests that during the first year of testing, the scores should not be used for any student or teacher consequences, but that the results should still be publicly available for parents, principals and teachers. During the second year of testing, it should be up to the state or district's discretion for whether to tie testing results to other decisions, and by the third year there should be "no reason" why the results shouldn't be used in conjunction with other measures to evaluate how teachers and students are doing, Martin says.
"We’re basically calling for a common-sense approach that says you should move forward with the assessments, you should move forward with more robust teacher evaluation systems that look at multiple measures … but as you’re implementing these brand new assessments in the first year, you shouldn't attach high-stakes consequences to them for either teachers or students," Martin says.
But the most important area in which states should invest their time and resources, Martin says, is ensuring teachers get the time and professional development they need to adjust their instruction practices. A close second, she adds, is making sure the assessments, curriculum and instructional tools are aligned to the standards.
"You see a lot of people in the market labeling something 'Common Core' that's not Common Core," Martin says. "The more you can align those pieces of the equation, the better."
The report points to Colorado, where teachers statewide participate in the District Sample Curriculum Project. Teachers work together to translate the standards into content- and grade-level specific curriculum overviews and produce units of instruction. So far, 116 school districts and about 500 teachers have worked on the project, which has produced more than 650 Common Core-aligned materials, the report says.
"It takes very deliberate action to make sure parents and teachers are engaged around the promise of the standards, but also what they look like and how they can be positively translated into good teaching," Martin says. "It’s not something that’s going to happen automatically, it’s something that will take deliberate attention."