Report: Elementary Teachers Warming to Common Core But Still Have Concerns

By Madeline Will — October 12, 2016 4 min read
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Elementary school teachers have generally positive views of the Common Core State Standards, despite concerns of too-high expectations for students and too-little support for teachers, especially regarding assessments, new findings say.

The nonprofit Center on Education Policy, based in Washington, D.C., conducted five focus groups composed of K-5 teachers in the spring and summer of 2016. Teachers from five school districts in Illinois, Delaware, Wisconsin, and Utah—states that have adopted the common core but use different assessments—were included. In all, 26 teachers from across elementary grades were interviewed. The focus groups were conducted as a follow-up to CEP’s nationally representative survey of public school teachers, which was released in May.

According to the CEP’s report on the focus groups, participants praised the increased rigor in the common standards, along with their emphasis on “higher-order thinking and reasoning skills.” Still, several teachers said that the common core may be “pushing children too quickly,” by not taking into account students’ differences in maturity and readiness.

One quote from a kindergarten teacher: “We have to spend the first quarter front loading letters and sounds, and how to hold a pencil, and how to sit in a chair, and none of that is accounted for in the common core.”

Teachers also expressed concern that the emphasis on academics in the common core has reduced time for building students’ social-emotional skills and creativity. Still, most elementary teachers previously surveyed by CEP said their classroom autonomy has stayed the same or increased with the new standards.

One of the focus group participants said when implementation first started, it was very rigid and there wasn’t room for teacher creativity. “But I think this year we’re kind of turning a corner ... we have more opportunity ... I think that it’s more open now,” the teacher said.

Finding, developing, and revising standards-aligned curriculum has consistently been one of the challenges for teachers working with the common core. Previous studies have found that teachers have had to rely on homegrown instructional materials, or free online platforms, to meet the common standards.

Teachers in CEP’s focus groups shared this concern, saying that especially early on in the implementation process, they had to develop and revise common-core-aligned curriculum—which was challenging and time-consuming. Teachers also reported collaborating with other educators in the district to both align curriculum and teach the standards.

One quote: “Prior to the Common Core State Standards, I don’t think many of us were involved in writing our own curriculum. But then when the common core came out ... we didn’t really have a curriculum. ... We hunted, begged, searched, and tried to piece together things that matched that standard.”

Now, teachers in the focus groups said curricular materials that are aligned with the common core are more readily available, but some teachers reported still using textbooks that are not aligned with the standards.

In the CEP’s nationally representative survey, teachers complained about constantly changing demands and said they felt ignored in policy discussions. The survey also found that more than two-thirds of teachers used student results from the spring 2015 tests to modify their teaching. Still, a majority of teachers said they spend too much time preparing students for state- and district-mandated tests, and 81 percent said their students spend too much time taking those tests.

In the focus groups, elementary teachers said testing takes too long and puts students under too much stress. Teachers said that while they use assessment data to guide their instruction, they receive state results too late in the school year to help their current class. Instead, some teachers said they turn to other assessments to guide instruction.

“The new state CCSS-aligned assessments have the potential to provide teachers with a wealth of information on student performance, but state leaders need to take steps to make the data more timely and easily accessible,” said Diane Stark Rentner, CEP’s deputy director, in a statement.

In its list of policy recommendations, CEP said policymakers need to develop a formal process for involving teachers in policy decisions. The group also said that states and districts should purchase standards-aligned textbooks and other curricular resources, as well as provide teachers video and in-person professional development on instructional techniques.

Source: Image via CEP report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.