For most schools and districts, the process of implementation with the Common Core State Standards will include a lot of discussion about professional development, new CCSS-aligned materials, and technology upgrades that will help schools teach daily technology use and prepare for the “next generation” digital assessments. All necessary and helpful. But if the decisive factor in any classroom is quality of instruction (we know that to be true), then we will undoubtedly be a step ahead when teachers have an extensive and fluent knowledge of the Standards themselves.
Think about the lessons we learned from No Child Left Behind and the move toward State Content Standards. In New Mexico, we went from teaching as much of the material in the textbook as we could to skipping around in multiple curriculum resources to teach the necessary standards for our grade level. Often the textbook included concepts and skills that were assigned by our state standards to a different grade level or not at all. Sometimes the textbooks did not include any material on large and important topics required by our state standards.
At the school where I am privileged to serve, only 8% of 8th graders were Proficient in mathematics in 2005. By 2008, over 50% of 8th graders were Proficient in mathematics. In the meantime, we had learned to teach the Content Standards instead of teaching the textbook. One year we had no district-approved textbook, but designed our instruction in grade-level teams, focusing on the state standards. We made great gains. This story has been repeated all over the country as teachers discovered that most states had developed quality content standards that were cohesive and comprehensive. As we became fond of saying, “Don’t teach to the test, teach to the standards!”.
Unfortunately, many states are finding great disparity between their old contents standards and the new Common Core Standards. New Mexico found approximately half of the current Math standards can be appropriately matched to the same grade level in the CCSS. While most teachers know their state standards forward, backward, and upside-down, that knowledge must be revised to include new concepts or selectively abandon others. Attention must be paid to the progression of skill and content through each grade level, not just the one I currently teach. The Common Core State Standards are a whole new ballgame!
All the great materials, technology, and professional development in the world will only take the classroom so far in the quest for college and career preparedness. In the end, there is no substitute for complete and confident knowledge of the standards.
Check back next week for practical ideas for individuals and teams to become acquainted and knowledgeable with the CCSS. What ideas do you have for developing that knowledge? I would love to hear from you.