Checking in with Common Core Implementation in Illinois

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ASCD asked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. Below, we hear from Dr. Nancy P. Gibson of Illinois ASCD on the challenges and successes that Illinois has had with Common Core implementation.

Where is your state in the process of implementing the Common Core State Standards?

In 2010, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) adopted new math and English language arts standards for K–12 education, known as the New Illinois State Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core. ISBE developed the following three-phase New State Standards Implementation Plan:

  • Phase I: Adoption, Communication, and Coordination (June 2010–June 2011)
  • Phase II: Communication, Resource Design, and Design of Implementation System (ongoing)
  • Phase III: Transition, Implementation, and Technical Assistance (ongoing)

 

It is important to note that the ISBE has changed approximately 20 percent of this year’s annual state assessment, aligning the changed items to the Common Core State Standards. They are also using new cut scores to determine adequate yearly progress (AYP). Both of these changes are expected to result in lower “meets” and “exceeds” rates for districts and schools than in prior years. This will cause great concern among parents and community members, especially in districts that are known for their outstanding schools. We expect that the number of schools and districts that do not meet the standards will rise dramatically in Illinois.

What part of implementation is going really well in your state?

The success of the Common Core implementation depends upon what part of the state the district is located in, the size of the district, and the resources of the district. For example, the Chicago suburban districts that are located in the northern, northwestern, western, and southwestern areas surrounding the city are much further along in adopting and aligning their curriculum with the new Illinois State Learning Standards than, for example, the Chicago Public Schools and other large suburban and urban school districts. Many smaller and more rural Illinois school districts, with limited resources and usually no curriculum director or administrator, are still at the awareness stage and are just beginning to educate their teachers about the Common Core standards.

The other issue I see in our state is that many teachers can talk about the Common Core State Standards, but their instructional strategies have not changed. Training is key for most teachers, and it will take time, resources, and effective coaching and mentoring to help teachers become more effective in their classrooms.

What are some challenges of implementation that your state is facing?

The question in Illinois and other states is, can you mandate meaningful education reform? Adoption of the Common Core State Standards will not bring about the kind of education reform that calls for the development of school cultures that put teacher and student learning at the center of what they do. Mandating what teachers teach and how they teach it will only result in more frustration and comments such as, “here we go again.” It is imperative, no matter what state you reside or teach in, that there is buy-in and a grassroots movement of teachers at the local level to use the Common Core State Standards. Teachers who understand why the new Common Core State Standards are important can help promote the development of a professional learning community where a dialogue regarding teaching and learning is part of their culture.

Can you share with us some tools that you’ve found helpful for implementation?

At the core of any implementation of an initiative, such as the Common Core State Standards, is professional development and training. Any initiative must be carefully designed and implemented with fidelity and be based on best practice. It is important to remember that each teacher is an individual with individual professional development needs. The old one-size-fits-all model will not bring about the desired change nor develop more effective teachers in our classrooms. Helping teachers to improve their instruction through the clinical supervision model will develop more effective teaching and higher student achievement. Over time, the “individual continuous improvement” model will push the school toward the goal of building a collegial professional culture focused on teaching and learning at the highest levels.

What advice would you give to educational leaders working to implement the standards?

Identify which instructional leaders are already teaching and addressing rigorous curriculum standards for higher-order thinking and 21st century learning. Have them get the conversation going among their colleagues. Let them mentor and coach their colleagues by providing release time and other types of support so that they can observe in classrooms and help their colleagues become more effective educators. I also would advise administrators to spend at least 60–70 percent of their time in classrooms doing both formal and informal observations. Use walk-throughs to give good feedback to your teachers on what you saw or did not see. Be a trusted coach and colleague, a true instructional leader who inspires all teachers and students to be the best that they can be.