I want to name upfront that I am a first grade teacher. I think that the adaptation of the Common Core State Standards feels different for me than a third grade teacher, whose students are testing for the first time and whose evaluation is tied to that test score, or a sixth grade teacher, whose students have not had the common core for the last six years of their education. Both of these differences account for major issues that need to be both recognized and reconciled as we adapt to the common core.
Here are some ways that policymakers and schools can ease the transition and make the implementation of the common core meaningful for children and their teachers.
- Not tying teacher evaluation to testing: We need to let teachers focus on teaching without the punitive measures tied to state testing. We need to encourage them to experiment, make mistakes, and become better teachers because of these mistakes. Also, how can we hold a teacher accountable for new material on a test that students have not learned in all the years before? It’s going to take time.
- Gradual release of standards by grade and subject: When my school began implementing the common core, they did it gradually. Certain grades focused on certain subjects at different times. For example, three years ago, kindergarten addressed the math standards that were different from the state standards we had been using. And then two years ago the first grade team began working with the new math standards. Then we shifted our focus to reading last year and writing this year.
- Support from school and district leaders: Math and literacy coordinators, along with teams of teachers from the different schools in my district, looked at holes in the curriculum (areas that did not meet the common-core standards), pointed those areas out to us, and provided us with objectives and resources to meet those needs. The most helpful documents have been those that give examples of what the standards mean. This document from North Carolina has been one of the most helpful in math.
- Thoughtful unit planning: When we do unit planning, we always highlight the focus standards for that unit. We talk about what they mean, and what makes the first grade standard different from the same kindergarten and second grade one. When we do math unit planning, we look at the North Carolina document to see examples of what rigorous work and understanding look like for the new standards.
- Trusting teachers: As new initiatives and programs come and go, teachers continue to do good teaching, to rely on what has worked, as well as reflect and make changes. Let us continue doing that.
Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children in Phoenix and New York City.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.