Lessons from the Field: Leading Implementation of the Common Core State Standards

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Judy F. Carr is an ASCD Faculty Member as well as a senior consultant and leadership development coach with the Center for Curriculum Renewal. She will be presenting at ASCD’s Common Core Professional Development Institutes which you can learn more about and register for here.

During the 2012–13 school year, ASCD is offering Professional Development Institutes focused on leading implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Participants from many states across the country represent school- and district-level leadership, from superintendents and curriculum directors to principals, department chairs, and other teacher leaders.

Folks arrive with a range of experiences, from those just learning about the common core to others who have made headway in developing the systems, structures, and strategies needed to bring the Common Core standards to routine practice in all classrooms. Key themes are emerging.

We are our own best resources

One of the best outcomes of each institute has been the sharing among participants, including in some cases the creation of shared online folders for samples of work—such as curriculum maps directly tied to the Common Core standards and sample lesson and unit templates—created at different sites. At one session, a participant introduced everyone to an app called “I-Annotate PDF.” Teachers and their students can use the app with their tablets to underline key ideas, circle essential vocabulary, and write questions directly on documents as they engage in deep reading of text.

Teams move deeper faster

Many schools and districts have sent teams to the institutes to gather information, assess current local practices, and begin to plan recommendations for what to start, stop, and keep if the Common Core standards are to become a reality and affect the learning of all students. Working together, these small groups of administrators and teacher leaders take the tools and templates provided during the institute sessions and begin to make these their own.

In the process, they self-assess current realities and, at times, recognize critical gaps that must be addressed to achieve full implementation of the Common Core standards at their own site. Good work already begun is affirmed, too.

There is no need for crosswalks to former standards

Conducting a cross-walk from the Common Core standards to any state’s previous standards is a misuse of energy that points us toward past practice rather than taking on the question, “What will it take to ensure that all students learn these standards well?”

The Common Core standards have three parts, not two

It is common practice to speak of the Common Core standards for English language arts and literacy and for math. And in many schools and districts, the resulting tendency is to set up two committees, design just two implementation processes, and so forth. May participants leaving the Professional Development Institute have commented, “Now I understand the importance of a three-pronged approach to the Common Core State Standards: focusing on English language arts, on mathematics, AND on literacy in the content areas.”

This can mean including the grades 6–12 literacy standards in the appropriate curriculum maps or scope-and-sequence documents for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Or this can mean making official decisions about which subject areas or courses are responsible for teaching and assessing which of the literacy standards or considering whether there are subjects beyond mathematics in which the standards for mathematical practice should be taught and assessed. For example, many see science classes as a natural place for students to apply their learning of essential mathematics content and processes.

Less is more, in more ways than one

 Although the magnitude of implementing the Common Core State Standards across all grade levels and subjects can initially feel overwhelming to those responsible for curriculum leadership, the realization that the standards themselves are at the heart of a unified learning system turns initial stress into proactive energy for effective changes processes.

The growing number of resources and examples available from the states involved in implementing the standards eases the burden of “starting from scratch.” At the same time, it is from the standards themselves that we often find the most common-sense answers, which is why it is important to engage in deep reading of the Common Core introductory material, margin notes, appendices, and the standards themselves.

Time is of the essence

 The sooner the Common Core standards move into routine practice in all classrooms, the sooner all students will have opportunities to learn well the content and essential practices of mathematics and the knowledge and skills to “read like detectives and write like investigative reporters,” using evidence from text to support claims.

There is no need to wait until the year of the new state assessments to engage students with academic vocabulary or to balance literature with informational text. The sooner we begin to narrow and deepen the focus of instruction and classroom assessment to the standards identified for each grade level, the more likely students will be to perform well on existing assessments, on assessments designed specifically for the Common Core State Standards, and in their own future experience in college and careers.