Practitioner’s Corner: Common Core at the Local Level

By Joe Crawford
Principal, May/June 2013

Many educators are overwhelmed by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) due not only to the change they represent, but also to their length and complexity. However, the reality is that we already know how to operationalize the CCSS in a straightforward, proven approach to curriculum alignment.

Less Is More
As Mike Schmoker points out in his latest book, Focus, we need to create curriculum expectations that are simple and clear, and that prioritize learning for our students. I have adapted the work of Larry Ainsworth and Doug Reeves in creating what they call power standards. In identifying power standards, educators select the most critical learnings that pass the test of endurance, leverage, and readiness for the next level of learning.

How Do We Do This?
By applying this concept and following Schmoker’s advice to seek simplicity, clarity, and priority, we work with our staff to apply that process to the CCSS and create realistic, achievable learning expectations based on the CCSS, state assessment system, and what kids must know and be able to do in a particular grade level or course. When the new assessments are developed and shared, we can fi ne-tune what we have created to address that assessment system.

The first step is to have teachers study the CCSS for their grade level only and identify the domains within the grade level. They prioritize the standards within that domain by identifying the most important skills that all students must know and be able to do. They then unpack those skills by identifying and clarifying the explicit and implicit skills contained in the standards within that domain. Finally, they list those skills in a statement of the essential skills in that domain to be mastered by the end of the year. For example, at the third-grade level, demonstrating and recognizing the area of plane figures is an end-of-the-year learning expectation under the domain of measurement and data.

These end-of-the-year learning expectations are called the Local Common Core State Standards (LCCSS). Since they are end-of-the year expectations, they encourage local educators to begin with the end in mind as they develop curriculum expectations.

Are these perfect? Do they address all of the skills at the appropriate level? Probably not, but the entire teaching staff has come to consensus that these are the learning expectations that every teacher in the district or school will use. We have brought the entire staff to consensus on what all of our students should know and be able to do.

Once each grade-level team creates its own LCCSS, the teams meet with the grade level above and below them. During these meetings, teams vertically articulate the learning expectations and make sure these learning expectations are appropriately sequenced by answering the following questions:

  • Is there a logical, appropriate transition of skills between grade levels?
  • Are the CCSS domains expressed equally and adequately from year to year?
  • Do the skills represent a learnable amount of the most critical, most important skills?
  • Is the level of rigor appropriate and reflective of both the CCSS and state assessment system?
  • Do the verbs used in the LCCSS align to the verbs used in the CCSS?

Schools and districts must then take the next critical step. Now that we have determined end-of-year learning expectations, let’s deliberately scaffold this learning based on how children best learn rather than based on the chapters in a textbook. We take these end-of-year learning expectations and deliberately scaffold those learning expectations into quarterly instructional objectives that the staff agrees represent the best, most effective ways to scaffold the learning to ensure mastery.

In developing these instructional objectives, make sure they:

  • Clearly define expected learning;
  • Are assessable, and that one can write items to measure particular skills;
  • Align verbs in the instructional objectives to the LCCSS;
  • Provide the basis for lesson and unit design;
  • Are presented in understandable language that can be shared with students and parents; and
  • Represent a learnable amount for the grading quarter.

Ensuring that objectives follow these critical attributes allows the group to develop specific, measurable learning expectations that are used to create the logical next step in this process— developing curriculum documents.

Curriculum Documents
Curriculum documents set crystal clear learning expectations that teachers, students, and parents can readily understand and operationalize into learning activities that address the CCSS without dictating learning activities or instructional strategies. The learning goal is set; the method to reach that goal is left to the discretion of the teacher—the art of his or her craft. After achieving consensus on the standards-based expectations for every grade level, teachers can find instructional approaches that work and fi t their own instructional style.

Since all grade-level teachers are now teaching the same skills at approximately the same time, they can have meaningful conversations around shared work. Available software provides powerful tools to create, store, and share curriculum resources and approaches. As a result, the isolation of the classroom teacher begins to fade because we are working together, doing the same work, and seeking the same answers.

Common, Formative Assessments
Since we are all now teaching the same standards-based skills at approximately the same time, the use of common, formative assessments makes sense. Because all teachers will have just taught these specific skills, we can ask ourselves the following questions. Did our students learn those skills? Were there disparate results from teacher to teacher? How do we account for those differences? What can we do to change those results? What worked or did not work?

Such questions can now be answered by locally developed standards-based assessments directly tied to skills just taught. All of the teachers I have worked with have shown remarkable expertise in developing assessment items to measure student mastery of skills. They routinely develop their own assessments every day. Now that they are teaching the same standards based skills, they can share assessments and compare results.

The locally developed assessments based directly on standards-based skills that were just taught by the entire grade level or course are much more informative and helpful than nationally developed assessments. We all just taught all of our students these standards-based skills, so let’s give a common, formative assessment that precisely matches our instruction. The professional learning community now has relevant, actionable data to use in planning instruction.

Joe Crawford is a retired Milken Award winning educator who served as a middle school principal for 24 years.


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