Last week I was invited to a meeting with the curriculum officers in my district. At this meeting we were discussing how to roll out the district focus for the coming inservice work days before the beginning of the school year. This year this training will include performance based assessments in our new frameworks. At the end of the school year last year my district held a summer institute for teachers. Teachers all across the district were invited to form teams of content and course alike teachers and come in for four days, during which they were paid, and develop performance based assessments to fit their curriculum. These were tied directly to Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) released items. The great thing is that teachers were creating them to fit into their curriculum. They felt that they were creating good quality assessments that didn’t cause them to stop everything, march their class down to a computer lab, test the kids for a day or two, and march them back to their classrooms to continue with where ever they left off. The expectation was and is that they will administer these assessments within their classroom during certain benchmarked periods this coming school year. The conversation I was now having with district leaders was about how to roll out the implementation of these assessments. During the planning meeting I came to a few conclusions that I think are probably not singular to my district. They do all lead me to the basic belief that the Common Core State Standards have changed this conversation.
The Common Core has changed who is at the table.
Who has been at the table in years past? I can’t honestly tell you who was at the table in years past. It wasn’t me and it was any other classroom teachers. It was central office employees who were planning what they had for us for the upcoming year. Last year they dealt mostly with the new evaluation system and my districts framework training. These were plans that were made to meet teacher and student needs, not half hazard at all, however they were the plan and/or the vision of those above. A top down model for sure.
Who was at the table this time. Well a lot of the same people were at the table, however there were also two teachers. One from an elementary school and myself, to offer the secondary perspective on literacy, the standards and how to best roll out these assessments. In fact the two of us ended up not only in on the conversation but planning and providing some of the trainings around these assessments. This is an important change. Having teachers at the table makes the process much more collaborative across levels within our district. I think this change is integral to the success of any new implementation especially concerning the Common Core State Standards. Teachers want to be included and so far the Common Core has made that happen, both in the design of the assessments and the implementation.
The Common Core has changed what is being discussed.
In years past we had been discussing how each building would split up and plan their professional learning days when we returned in August. Each school had a list of things that needed to be done, but not anything we would be doing as a district initiative. We were not collaborating across the district. Building, departments, PLC’s, and individual teachers were doing their own work, but not bringing it to the table as a communal part of our district and students growth across the board.
This conversation was about how to take the collaborative work of the teachers who came to the institute and roll it out to the rest of the district. I also saw how much work these teachers had done. This work was incredible. The performance assessments that they created included prompts, tasks, text and resources, as well as scripted directions in some cases for teachers to follow. They even included common rubrics. It was amazing. We talked about these resources with the highest of praise. Instead of coming to the table with resources they had found and discussing how to instruct staff to use them, the conversation was about how we were going to support teacher use of incredible resources they created. We were asking how can we support them in implementing them across the district and levels and how will we deliver a common message about the reasons behind this work and how best to do this work.
The Common Core has changed who will do the work.
In years past any work done on standards focussed on literacy would have been done by English Language Arts teachers. Even then it would have been done by building or professional learning communities.
In this case we were talking about a timeline to roll it out for many different groups. We have performance tasks made by teachers from varying grade levels and content areas including ELA, Social Studies, Science and CTE. The Common Core has given teachers across the curriculum a common language and a common mission.
This conversation empowered me to want to come back to work and dive in. I believe that the Common part of the Common Core is going to unite teachers in the design and implementation of assessments in my district and I hope in many districts across the nation.