Voice from the Field
The Promise of the Common Core…
Lissa Pijanowski, Associate Superintendent for Academics and Accountability, Forsyth County Schools, Cumming, Georgia — Friday, November 04, 2011
Common Core State Standards are anything but common. Never in our nation’s history have we had a set of common learning expectations for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics—K-12 articulated standards that have now been adopted by 47 states. These standards represent a readiness for college and careers that we must ensure all students graduating from our high schools attain to be successful. This is powerful and has the potential to move public education off the dime and student learning to new heights. The promise of Common Core will be realized only if …
Content is high quality and directly supports the attainment of standards. Standards alignment by word search is one thing but true alignment to the intended student performance is another. A deep dive into the standards reveals new academic vocabulary, new levels of rigor, and a shift in when and where concepts are taught. Here is an example of a sixth-grade math standard as compared to the current Georgia Performance Standards. Both sets of standards received an A- from the Fordham Foundation for clarity, specificity, and content; however, note the difference in the language of the standard. The academic vocabulary underlined in the Georgia Performance Standard is not explicitly stated in the Common Core but rather assumed. Although there may be fewer Common Core State Standards, it is the depth and breadth of the performance expectations that must drive content development and learning resources. Many states are providing teachers with examples and explanations to aid in the transition to the Common Core. This one Common Core Math standard equates to a standard taught for three weeks in the curriculum Georgia is currently implementing.
Additionally, content must be modular and flexible to enable educators to truly personalize instruction. Common Core has high expectations, and educators will experience a gap in student learning that calls for measures beyond simply differentiating instruction. Teachers will need the tools and resources to assign learning experiences for students in real time and with relevant, engaging content based on their most current performance. Personalized learning does not represent a new way of thinking, as we have always known this was the right thing to do for students. It does represent a new way of teaching. With today’s technology and quality digital content, the personalization of student learning can be realized.
Assessment is redesigned to be formative and performance based. Learning begins with assessment, and the Common Core comes with a new national assessment. There are two assessment consortiums developing “next generation assessments” that include both formative and summative measures of student learning that are administered throughout the school year. These new assessments, designed for Grades 3-8 and high school, will be used for accountability purposes and represent a shift from the single, multiple-choice, end-of-year assessment to place greater emphasis on student performance tasks. For a graphical overview of PARCC and SBAC, click the following link: http://k12center.org/rsc/pdf/parcc_and_sbae_systems.pdf .
The classroom implications for this next generation of assessments is that a significant emphasis must be placed on providing students with integrated performance tasks that call on creative problem solving skills and higher order thinking. Students will be required to apply their knowledge and demonstrate a deeper understanding of content. Therefore, more performance tasks must be designed, aligned to the Common Core, and delivered to teachers for use with the students. While this sounds simple, the reliance on standardized, multiple-choice tests for accountability purposes has deteriorated the balance of assessments in classrooms across the nation. Teachers will need to become proficient in all types of assessment from progress monitoring to performance tasks to common summative assessments. Both national assessment consortia have blueprints determining a student performance level from a combination of performance tasks and traditional end-of-year assessments.
Management systems become learning systems. Gone are the days of a separate student information system, assessment system, and content management system. These systems must be integrated into one system that drives student learning. The content and rigor of the new standards demand that the education industry provide solutions that foster innovative teaching and learning. As a USDOE Investing in Innovation (i3) grant recipient, our district is working with a private partner to build a learning system that is intuitive for the end users, leverages real-time assessment data, and recommends content to be delivered to students for both remediation and enrichment purposes. Yes, one single sign-on, and all the tools at your fingertips. This is the wave of the future. This is what the education community must have in order to realize the gains in student achievement that we all very much desire. As stated previously, we have the technology, we have the content, and now we have common standards. We simply need the will and the courage to forge strong partnerships between the public and private sector to make it happen.
Professional development is re-imagined. Educators must be given permission to take risks and encouraged to learn from one another. The collaborative community has just exploded because of Common Core. Educators now have a wealth of knowledge to draw from, outside of their district and state, due to common standards. The key will be to create platforms for networking and leveraging the intellectual property that will be generated as a result of each state working on the Common Core State Standards. There is a rush to create when we may need to stop, think, and innovate. There are Common Core presentations, lessons, sample assessments, videos, and more scattered all over the web. One can spend hours searching for resources online when there must be a better, more efficient way. The key will be to create spaces for adult learning where teachers and leaders cannot only access and utilize learning resources but also collaborate with the creator/author as well as share themselves. The Common Core allows for re-imagined learning and collaboration simply because the standards are now common. An unprecedented opportunity for 24/7 adult learning is upon us, and it is the sincere hope of educators hungry for new knowledge and resources that innovative practice will emerge.
The promise of the Common Core will be realized if best practice becomes common practice. With a commitment to high-quality content, assessments, learning systems, and professional development, we can make great things happen for students. It is an exciting time to be in education, and no one can argue with the idea that all students graduate from our high schools ready for college and career. They are our future, and this is our chance to get it right.
Common Core State Standards Initiative – www.corestandards.org
Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC)– www.parccconline.org
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) – www.k12.wa.us/SMARTER/default.aspx
K12 Center at ETS – k12center.org/publications/assessment_consortia.html
Lissa Pijanowski, Ed.D., is the Associate Superintendent for Academics and Accountability in Forsyth County Schools, located in Cumming, Georgia. She has 20 years of experience as a teacher, school administrator, state director of school improvement, and district office leader. She is passionate about creating conditions within public education that foster high levels of learning and engagement for both students and educators. firstname.lastname@example.org