Professional Development

Despite Training, Half of Teachers Feel Inadequately Prepared for Common Core

By Catherine Gewertz — August 14, 2014 5 min read
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Teachers are getting steadily more training in the common core, but they’re not feeling much more prepared to teach it, according to survey results released Thursday by the Education Week Research Center.

The study, “From Adoption to Practice: Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core,” shows that while far more teachers are attending common-core training, they are giving those sessions low marks for quality.

Those findings were drawn from an online survey given to registered users of edweek.org in October 2013. The pool of respondents is not nationally representative, but it is a snapshot of a diverse group of 457 teachers in states that adopted the common core. The Education Week Research Center conducted a similar survey in October 2012. Among the most pronounced changes it found from year to year were in the area of professional development and training for the common core.

Professional Development and Training. In last year’s report, 71 percent of teachers said they had attended professional development or training for the common core. This year, that figure rose to 87 percent.

Teachers are spending more time in training, too: Four in 10 said they had spent more than five days in common-core training in this year’s survey, compared with 28 percent the previous year.

Teachers were far more critical of their training sessions in 2013 than they were in 2012, however. Two-thirds felt they were of high quality in 2012, but barely half said so in 2013.

As states edge closer to giving common-core-aligned assessments this spring, it’s notable that the survey found that few teachers were getting training about the tests. Only 23 percent reported that the assessments had been a topic of professional development. Far more common is training on the English/language arts standards; training on the math standards runs a distant second. Very few teachers reported professional development sessions aimed at helping them teach subgroups of students with specific challenges, such as students with disabilities or those from low-income families.

Preparedness. Even though far more teachers are receiving common-core training, it doesn’t appear to be helping them feel more prepared to teach the new standards. Their sense of preparedness, ranked on a scale from 1 (“not at all prepared”) to 5 (“very prepared”), was about the same in this year’s report as it was the previous year: just under half gave themselves 4s or 5s on that preparedness scale.

That sense of preparedness falls sharply, though, when it comes to students with more challenges. Fewer than four in 10 teachers said they felt well prepared to teach the common core to students who were from low-income families or were academically at-risk. One-quarter or fewer said they felt prepared to teach it to students with disabilities or those still learning to speak English.

It’s not too surprising, then, that teachers reported that they were worried about their students’ readiness for the new standards and tests. Only one-quarter said in this year’s report that their students were well prepared to master the standards, and 14 percent said their students were well prepared for the tests.

Most teachers surveyed believe that the standards will have a positive effect on their teaching. But their confidence in that value fell in the year between the two surveys. In the fall of 2012, 76 percent thought the standards would improve their practice; by 2013, that number was 70 percent.

Teachers are more pessimistic that the new common-core tests will improve their practice or student learning. Just over half said that the assessments would improve their practice; 45 percent said they’d improve student learning.

Curricular Resources. Teachers are unhappy with the lack of alignment between their instructional materials and the common core, a situation that’s stubbornly unchanged from the year before. Nearly six in 10 said their main curricular materials were not aligned to the new standards.

Textbooks came in for a particularly hard hit. Less than one-third of the teachers said their textbooks were aligned. Supplementary resources and digital/multimedia resources were better aligned, teachers said. But even so, barely half gave those materials strong marks for alignment.

Teachers are pretty cynical about publishers’ claims that their materials are “common-core-aligned.” Fewer than four in 10 said they’d trust curriculum providers’ claims of alignment. Two-thirds said they’d trust the judgment of “independent panels of experts.” Nearly nine in 10, though, said they could put their faith in the judgments of their fellow teachers when it comes to materials alignment.

Awareness of Standards and Tests. Far more teachers consider themselves to be “very familiar” with the common standards than did the previous year. Only 18 percent classified themselves as “very familiar” with the math standards in the fall of 2012, but that number rose to 31 percent in the fall 2013 survey. The proportion who described themselves as “very familiar” with the English/language arts standards rose from 34 percent to 45 percent.

Far fewer teachers were familiar with the common-core assessments being developed by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, however. The math tests from the state consortia were familiar to just over half, and the tests in English/language arts tests were familiar to about two-thirds of the responding teachers.

Even fewer are aware of assessment resources such as practice tests, blueprints, or scoring rubrics. Four in 10 said they hadn’t reviewed those kinds of materials. Of those who have, the resources that teachers were most likely to have reviewed were the consortia’s practice tests and sample items. Nearly half said they’re familiar with those. Fewer than three in 10 said they’d seen the groups’ achievement-level descriptors, scoring rubrics, test blueprints, or technology specifications.

Support for Education Week Research Center’s survey of teachers was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which also provides support for Education Week’s coverage of deeper learning.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


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