Has the ship sailed on the goal of having Common assessments?

An apple and an orange.One of the promises of the Common Core State Standards is a uniform way to compare student achievement across the country -- and along with it, a uniform way to measure teacher and school effectiveness from one state to the next, and the educational system of the U.S. vs other countries as well.

So all eyes are on the organizations developing the Next Generation assessments for the Common Core.

But with two consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) building different assessments, and some states indicating they will use assessments developed by other vendors (and several states not adopting Common Core at all), will it really be possible to compare achievement from state to state?

In this fantastic segment about the Common Core on NPR's On Point with Tom AshbrookAndy Rotherham of Bellweather Education, says "the ship has sailed" on the possibility of every state using the same test.

Does it matter? Is this a cause for concern?

Small changes go far in Common Core implementation

Our team at Storyworks magazine benefits from insights from our extended “family” of teacher subscribers around the country. We’re getting great tips on Common Core implementation, like this one from the wonderful Michele Miner, a learning specialist for the Pittsfield, Mass., school district.

Like in many districts, Pittsfield’s teachers are working hard to make small changes in their teaching approaches to align with Common Core. Below are examples of how they are changing the wording of questions they’re asking on their 3rd-5th grade ELA assessments:

  • "Which piece of dialogue supports the...."
  • "The most important lesson....."
  • "The theme of this passage...."
  • "What could the reader conclude...."
  • "What mood does the author create...."
  • "Use specific evidence from the text to...."
  • "Make a logical inference from....."
  • "How does the author support his or her claim..."
  • "With which statement would the author most likely agree...."

It’s been fascinating for us to see how small tweaks can completely change the nature of questions, yes?

A text complexity survival kit

In Storyworks magazine, which is read by about 500,000 kids in grades 3-5, we’ve always been a little smug about our nonfiction stories, which we POUR ourselves into, and lavish with love and attention until they are thrilling and fascinating and packed with great information. But when Common Core popped up, we panicked a little, wondering if our stories were going to be useful. Engaging? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely, with links to great science and social studies topics.

But (here’s where we got worried): were they “complex” enough?

To answer this question, we delved into the world of text complexity. And because we are complete and total language arts geeks, we actually thought this adventure was really fun. We talked to experts. We pored over the standards. We chatted with our go-to teacher advisors. We ordered coffee and cupcakes and sat around talking about all of this late into the night.

And we realized that YES indeed, our stories were absolutely complex. We also came away with a pretty good sense of what constitutes a complex text. We learned that complexity goes beyond just higher Lexile. In fact a story with a lower level can be quite complex. Some other factors:

  • A nonlinear structure
  • An unusual point of view (second person is particularly challenging)
  • Figurative language
  • Challenging vocabulary, particularly in a new “domain” or subject area
  • A topic that is outside of a students’ area of knowledge

In addition, a huge issue is the “reader task.” Just what will you expect your students to do after they’ve read the piece? A challenging reading task, like comparing a nonfiction story to a poem, can turn a simple piece into a complex reading experience.

We’ve created nifty interactive PDFs to help our teachers see the quantitative and qualitative complexity factors of a particular story (http://storyworks.scholastic.com/home/storyworks-and-common-core). Scroll down this page and you’ll find our “Text Complexity Tool,” which shows how one of our most popular stories, about the Japanese tsunami, meets the criteria for complexity.

I’d love to know what you think.

CCSS implementation outlook from CGCS

The Council of Great City Schools has released an excellent report entitled "Implementing the Common Core State Standards in Urban Public Schools."  This survey of 36 urban school districts has a ton of great insights about the "state of play" with regards to Common Core implementation.

There are some interesting findings in here:

First, only 58% of districts have developed a written plan to implement the CCSS. With the complexity that good implementation will require and 87% of respondents stating that they plan on implementing by 2014-2015, the need for a plan is going to quickly become a critical one.

Just as interesting are approaches to staff professional development. There is a significant difference between the percentages of respondents stating that their district level staff have sufficient knowledge to discuss the classroom implications of the standards (69%) vs. school level staff (28%). And what kind of PD is taking place? It appears to be most heavily weighted towards general awareness building of the standards as opposed to deeper professional learning around new instructional strategies, etc.

It’s a great snapshot of where CCSS implementation is in our large urban districts. Updates to this report should be interesting.

I’m curious to hear from the teachers and district leaders out there. Is most of the PD in your district focused on general awareness now? Or are you digging deep into instructional practices?

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