Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Primary Barrier to CCSS Implementation

Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the probability there will not be an authentic and successful implementation of the Common Core States Standards (CCSS). It will require much more than a first order of change in our nations’ schools. And I am not sure we are up for it. We have not been for the past twenty years, what will be different now? And where does the hope of  implementation lie? 

As of late August, 2011, 44 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the voluntary Common Cores States’ Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. Despite some of the rhetoric and representations regarding the CCSS, these are not national standards developed by the federal government. The CCSS K-12 standards for learning were released by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, in June 2010 with the hopes of creating a consistent set of learning expectations K-12 across the states. You can click here for access to the full set of the Common Core States Standards in ELA and Mathematics and more. 

The June 2010 release included a commitment to begin testing in the 2014 -2015 school year, and two assessment consortia emerged – PARCC and SMARTer Balanced. A little more than one year later, these state led consortia are beginning the effort to design curricular frameworks aligned with the CCSS for public review and reaction this fall. You can view and review these frameworks and find out more about which consortia your state is a member of, at the PARCC or SMARTer Balanced websites.

Although there is still a lot of detail to be worked out with both consortia, a recent study from the Center of Educational Policy (CEP), Common Core State Standards: Progress and Challenges in School Districts’ Implementation highlighted several findings including:

1) About two-thirds of the districts in the adopting states cited inadequate or unclear state guidance on the CCSS as a major challenge.

2) Districts appear to face little resistance to implementing the CCSS from parents, community members or educators.

These are interesting findings. And they are not surprising. First, many of the states are still trying to determine how to best address the complexities of change that will come with the realized implementation of these standards. Some states are still deciding whether to fully participate in one consortium over the other. Until those decisions are made it is difficult to provide the type of guidance that will be needed and expected at the district level.

Second, there is little resistance at this point in time from the educators at the classroom level, because as of yet, nothing has changed. The K-12 teaching and learning of ELA and Mathematics is currently still at status quo stage. I have been in several schools and classrooms this year, and many teachers and administrators at the school site level, either know very little detail about the CCSS or they are vaguely aware that someone from their school or department is on the district CCSS Task force or committee. The expectations of change that will be caused by the CCSS has not yet hit the implementation stage at the grass roots level.   

You must ask, what will be the primary barrier to the successful implementation of the CCSS and K-12 student readiness by the spring of 2015?

Will it be the states' failure to provide adequate professional development and support?

Will it be a public outcry that these Common Core States Standards are somehow a bad thing for our Nations’ children?

Will it be resistance from the community or parents that we are expecting too much of our children, as we attempt to prepare every child for college and careers beyond high school?

Will it be funding? No money to teach using research affirmed instruction or student engaged learning? No money to create formative cycles of learning with student assessments?

Will it be the technology? It won’t live up to the promise of on-line assessments?

Will it be that the standards of the CCSS are just too rigorous for all children? Our profession of teachers and leaders just cannot deliver on the expectations of the CCSS? 

Will it be that we should not expect the same standards of learning in California as we do in Illinois or Pennsylvania or Louisiana?

Ultimately, it will not be any of these factors that will derail the successful implementation of the quality K-12 education described by the CCSS ELA and Mathematics expectations for our nation’s children. It will be our failure to understand that the authentic implementation of the CCSS requires the most essential elements of 2nd order change.

At least in my field, and in my leadership sphere of mathematics, there is almost nothing in the CCSS that we have not been inviting the educational community to change toward, since 1991. Twenty years! The successful K-12 teaching, assessing and learning of mathematics has just not penetrated into all of our nations' schools at a deep change level.

What possibly makes us think the CCSS will end this era of invitation to change? And if it is to end, what must every educator do in order to help children learn well?

That will be the topic of my next blog!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Commitment to Care - Forever

There has been a lot written the past 3 weeks about the 10th Anniversary of September 11th, 2001. And it is one reason that my own voice was somewhat silent about it, as I understand that I am not a journalist or a writer. I knew that it would be hard for me to write anything that would add to the conversation.

And yet, on Sunday, I felt this sense of urgency that I must not forget that moment in time – ever. And of all things it was during a Pre-Calculus tutoring session with our 15 year old daughter and her best friend. They were 5 in 2001. And her best friend is the oldest of four girls. The two youngest are 10 and 7. Our daughter spends so much time at their house they refer to her as “Cinco”, as in the 5th child.

Our daughter’s best friend has a Mom that is incredibly funny, has a great wit, and seems to somehow balance the demands of work and home, and all that comes with the life of four very active children. And she does it with a deeper sense of understanding then many parents I know.

Our daughter’s best friend has an equally hard working Dad, that somehow, manages day in and day out to handle 5 Girls under the age of 15 when Cinco is visiting, his wife and his mother-in-law, who all live under the same roof. He is just a really really good guy. And the 4th of July is an important holiday.

He is a 9/11/2001 survivor.

His story is riveting. His survival is a miracle. His memories will be forever. His wife and family know both the guilt (why did he survive when so many did not?) and the joy (he survived) of a moment that forever changed their lives. They have a sense of appreciation that allows them to live today, in a way that creates a positive caring for tomorrow - because they came so dangerously close to not having more moments to build that legacy.

On 9/11/2001, I was about 1700 miles away from my daughter’s best friends family. I did not know them yet. I did not know their story. But, for a brief moment, in the aftermath of it all, I experienced an incredible moment in my life as an educator. At the time I was the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in my suburban high school district – Stevenson HSD 125.

Some may remember that 9/11/2001 was a Tuesday morning. The following Friday there was a request for a national moment of silence at 12:00pm EST. At our high school we used a live feed into our classrooms, set up big screens in our commons and lunch areas, and at 11:AM Central time, our students participated in this national moment; silence, a signing of the national anthem, an opportunity to donate to the recovery and relief effort, and words of comfort and encouragement orchestrated by our Student Council leaders.

I stood in our cafeteria among 100’s of our students during this 20-minute reflection and response on what was a very fresh and open wound. All around me, 15 and 16 year old students - students that for the most part live in that teenager “it’s all about me world”, were in a deep commitment to the moment. There was a spirit of fellowship, of giving, of selflessness, of caring that I have rarely observed in all of my years in education. It was everyone. And it moved me to tears – with students I did not know. With teenagers that in that moment cared deeply and wept for the families, like my daughter’s best friend. There was this triumph of our humanity, amidst the tragedy that is now simply known as nine eleven.

Our current seniors were 7-8 years old, in 2001. Current 2nd graders (The class of 2022) were not born yet. I hope that whatever we do as adults, responsible for educating the next generation of students, that we will teach the class of 2022, a “commitment to caring” and giving to and for others. This must become one of the sustaining responses to the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 – as that class recognizes and understands the 20th anniversary of a moment we must never forget. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Formative Assessment: Ready... Set.. Action!

Walk into a high school mathematics classroom, a day or two after a major unit or chapter assessment instrument (usually called a test or quiz) and watch what happens as the assessment instrument is passed back to the students.  What do you observe?  

By now, teachers across the nation have passed back at least one and perhaps two or three such assessment instruments. The summative quiz or test usually has been scored by the teacher, has an assigned grade attached to it with some feedback, students quickly compare with other students to see who passed or failed, "You only got a D? Ha! I got a C+", the students might spend a brief moment listening as the teacher points out certain places on the exam where students should have been better prepared -  but were not ready, and then the tests are either collected or put away, as the new material for the next Chapter or Unit begins. 

No student reflection, and no student action required.

Dylan Wiliam in his 2011book, Embedded Formative Assessment, indicates that an assessment instrument such as a quiz or a test, functions formatively in the classroom to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted, and used by teachers, learners, or their peers to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions they would have made in absence of that evidence (p.43).

There are two key phrases in William’s definition: evidence about student achievement is elicited and… makes decisions about next steps. That is, teacher and students in conjunction with their peers must act on the evidence. Otherwise the formative process is empty in terms of its magnified impact on student learning.

I taught twelve years, before I finally thought about acting with my peers - creating assessments and lesson designs that would not only help my students get ready for the test (reflective work during the unit), get set (reflective study opportunities in class as they prepare for the exam), and then take action (after the exam). Like the scenario, above, I just passed back the quizzes (students could keep them), passed back the tests (I collected them right back), and moved on to the next Unit. There was no required student action, on the evidence collected from the assessment instruments used in class.  

Why did it take me so long to understand the power of the student assessment and learning research revealed in Wiliam's definition?

To some extent I had a limited mindset regarding the purpose of the assessment instruments (quizzes and tests) I was writing and using. My only purpose was to hold students accountable to the learning of the unit, and to assign grades. The idea that an assessment instrument such as a quiz or test could be used primarily as a reflective/goal setting tool to help students self-focus on areas of improvement,  just wasn't in my scope of understanding.  

But now it is. And I have no excuse not to shift my mindset. 
And so it is too, for the teachers and more importantly the PLC teacher teams, in Phoenix Union HSD. In 2011-2012, the PUHSD mathematics PLC teacher teams, are learning from one another across the district. There are several high school programs and PLC teacher teams demonstrating evidence of student achievement blowing past the barriers limiting significant improvement. In every case, the students are provided opportunities to take action on all assessment instruments before and after quizzes or tests are given - both in preparation for major student assessments and after the assessments. Every assessment is viewed as a student opportunity to learn from mistakes and errors - a motivator to keep trying and learning.   

The students are learning that they do not primarily take the test to get a grade. At best that is a secondary consideration. They primarily take the quiz or test, in order to self-determine areas of strength and weakness, and to focus the action they will take for future learning. How? 

Every high school mathematics PLC teacher team in the district has committed to using the the following assessment process: 

1) Write and design Unit (or Chapter) quiz and test instruments together. 
2) Agree upon the scoring rubrics to be used to grade the exams. 
3) Grade a sampling of student papers together to ensure inter-rater reliability and improved accuracy of the feedback and the grades assigned students.  
4) Create a student reflective worksheet, and require this worksheet be completed as part of the student self-reflection and goal setting process when a quiz (click here for a sample) or test (click here for a sample) is handed back to the student. 
5) Provide specific student practice action materials (worksheets), for the learning targets self-identified as  in need of continuos student focus. That is, provide a venue for the student to do more than just make a decision about what they do or don't know, but to take some type of action to get better. for some great samples, go to the Stevenson HSD Algebra 1 website. 

Thus, the Assessment instrument will no longer be the "End" but it will become the middle of a Teaching - Assessing- Learning never ending cycle for students and for teachers.  My colleagues and I are working on this idea and I will share it later this year in more detail, further down the road. 

In the meantime three cheers for the PLC teacher teams in Phoenix Union. It is courageous to step out of their comfort zone and commit holistically to the new mindset about the primary reason why they give quizzes and tests to their students. In November we all  meet together for the professional development of one another. And the teacher teams will share their stories and their artifacts - the success and the failures - the reality of implementation of a new idea is always messy, right? 
 Let's all cheer them on!