Educator Cadres Formed to Support Common Assessments

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 28, 2012 5 min read
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One of the groups designing tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards has launched a major effort to help state teams of educators understand—and be able to translate for their peers—what the new assessments will entail for classroom instruction.

The Educator Leader Cadres, as the initiative is known, is effectively a nod by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers to respond to the concerns of scholars and practitioners. They say that teachers’ practices are unlikely to change without widespread understanding of the standards’ new academic demands, as well as how those demands will be measured.

“Teachers are the first and probably the most important group to reach, but building principals are second—they are the keepers of the change,” said Doug C. Sovde, the director of instructional support and educator engagement for Achieve, the Washington-based nonprofit that serves as the project-management partner for PARCC.

The meeting, held here Aug. 21-23, focused on helping the teams gain a deep understanding of PARCC’s analysis of the standards and its newly released sample assessment items.

Supported by a $16 million supplemental grant under the federal Race to the Top assessment program, the cadres are envisioned as “ambassadors” for PARCC as it finalizes its assessments and releases tools and guidelines for teachers and the public to use.

The other federally funded group, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, also is convening state-based teams of teachers, who will help write that consortium’s assessment items, among other things. Teachers from PARCC states will serve as item reviewers.

The PARCC cadres will have three more face-to-face trainings, in addition to five virtual meetings, before the assessments are launched in the 2014-15 school year. (The first cohort of state cadres held its initial meeting earlier this summer.)

Each state participating in PARCC selected 24 educators for its cadre, 12 each for English/language arts and mathematics. The selection process was left up to each state; some used a formal application process, while others designated volunteers. About a third to a half of the cadre members are classroom teachers, PARCC officials said.

Composition varies by state, but, in general, the teams included a mix of K-12 teachers and administrators; higher education officials; lead teachers and coaches; and community representatives, from such groups as local chapters of the National Urban League.

Despite those variations, the goal is the same.

“Common core is causing serious angst in your states, your districts, and your schools,” David Saba, the chief executive officer of Laying the Foundation, a teacher-training wing of the National Math and Science Initiative and a partner on the educator-leader cadres for PARCC, told the 300 cadre members. “You’re here to relieve the pain.”

Up to Speed

Among the tasks of the day: a crash course on PARCC’s existing tools.

In a math session, cadre members spent an afternoon picking apart the eight mathematical practices that underpin those standards, as well as the consortium’s model content framework in that subject. The framework serves as a bridge between the standards and how the assessments are designed.

They took turns matching the prompts that will help guide the group’s test-item developers to the eight mathematical practices, and trying to envision how a teacher would have to model the practice of “reasoning abstractly and quantitatively,” for instance.

Much attention at the meeting also focused on PARCC’s sample test items.

They won mostly high marks from attendees, with a majority of questions focusing on matters of state technical capacity and online bandwidth to deliver the exams, which will be given on computers in most grades.

In meetings with their state colleagues, participants discussed ways of introducing teachers, parents, and others to the key shifts outlined in the standards and assessments, without scaring or alienating them.

The PARCC materials show “the transformative power of this system, but it’s also a little overwhelming,” said Margo Roen, a Tennessee cadre member and the director of new schools for the Achievement School District, a state-run district in Tennessee.

Some cadre members said they wanted more assistance in developing tools that would make the complex materials understandable to those educators just beginning to familiarize themselves with the standards and with PARCC’s vision for reaching them.

In addition to the model content frameworks, PARCC materials analyze and group the standards into different “claims,” “critical areas,” “domains,” and “clusters,” noted Clark Maxon, the director of assessment for Academy School District 20, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“It will be incredibly important for PARCC to bring more simplicity and clarity to these lenses,” Mr. Maxon said. “We don’t want teachers to see this as just one more thing.”

Roles Undetermined

Each state also determines the role that its cadre members will play in the transition to the common standards.

That’s one challenge of the project, its leaders note: In some places, the cadres will be providing direct professional development; in other instances, they will act primarily as messengers or informal advisers helping to direct others to PARCC tools and resources.

“There’s a fine line between providing all 600 [cadre members] with common messages and tools, and making sure that they fit in the context of each state,” Achieve’s Mr. Sovde said.

He expects the most advanced teams to go beyond that role, possibly reviewing or even crafting model instructional materials aligned to the standards and PARCC assessments by the time the cadres’ training ends.

In the meantime, many of the states began discussions about how best to use their time and what they want to accomplish.

“We’re messengers; we’ll be starting with our own districts,” said Jolee Garis, an elementary math coach for the Washington Township district, in Indianapolis. She believes the eight mathematical practices will be the biggest hurdle for her teachers.

“It will really change how they need to teach,” she said. “It will be outside their comfort zone.”

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Coverage of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the common assessments is supported in part by a grant from the GE Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as Educator Cadres Formed to Support Common Tests


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