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Core Connection | January 18, 2013
By Michael DeCaprio
This is the second in a series of articles that looks at the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in upstate New York, a Race to the Top state. Each piece will focus on one aspect of how buildings or districts are tackling the challenge of this major change.
New York has been working hard to live up to the promises of creating college- and career-ready students by embracing a number of new initiatives. These initiatives are all part of the Regents Reform Agenda.
A major anxiety in New York over the past two years has been that the many initiatives and moving parts in New York's Regents Reform Agenda (PDF) do not seem to work well together. At first, it was as if educators were being expected to move in three different directions in order to comply with the demands of moving to the Common Core standards, learning to use data and let the data drive instruction, and have teaching or leadership practice assessed under a brand new evaluation system.
One common analogy the state education department and the Race to the Top network teams try to use is the idea of a layer cake. Rather than viewing all the various initiatives as heading in different directions, they actually work in unison, one on top of another. If the base is the Common Core standards, to ensure that our students are on track with these demanding expectations, we need to monitor and assess for learning. That makes the next layer data-driven instruction. And if we expect to see all of these new expectations in the classroom (and then in the buildings as a whole), we need a layer of accountability. That makes the third layer the teacher evaluation system.
Standards and Accountability
So where are the actual connections? Cohesive layers are a start, but there must be some interplay. Let's take a look at the intersection of the new standards and the accountability system.
In 2011, New York adopted seven teaching standards (PDF) as a foundation for initial certification, to enhance the evaluation process, and to eventually create a teacher career ladder. Districts here were allowed to choose from a menu of teacher evaluation rubrics that ensure the New York State Teaching Standards are being met. The most common in this area has been ASCD author Charlotte Danielson's book Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching (2007). Looking within Danielson, we are guiding our leaders to a number of places where they should see the Common Core embedded throughout a teacher's practice.
Within Domain One, principals should be looking for knowledge of the standards in Component 1a and planning for the high expectations in Component 1c. Of course, the standards do not exist in a vacuum without curriculum or assessments. Principals should see this evidence when assessing Components 1e and 1f. So, right away, just in the planning phase of a teacher's practice, there are multiple points which link the standards to the evaluation system.
Further, the importance of the contents conveyed to the students in Component 2b and the expectations are laid out in Component 3a. Of course, the heart of a teacher's practice is Domain Three: Instruction. The expectations of the standards, the level of rigor in the Common Core–aligned state exams, and the instructional shifts can all be observed in Domain Three.
Last, regarding the overlap of standards and accountability is Domain Four: Professional Responsibilities. Teachers should reflect on effectiveness, which is so important during this transition. They need to convey to families what is happening in the classroom. Now, more than ever, teachers have to collaborate with colleagues and participate in the professional conversation. In New York, all of these things are aspects of a teacher's evaluation—they've always been expected, but now they are being scored.
Standards and Instruction Driven by Data
Although Common Branch, ELA, and math teachers in New York in grades 4 through 8 will be receiving a score in which 20 percent of their evaluation is based on student growth on state assessments, all other teachers must write Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) for this portion of their evaluations. At the core of an SLO is the infrastructure for teachers to focus on the most important learning for the year. Teachers use a pre-test and/or historical data to determine where a student is in his or her learning. Then, based on this data, teachers set learning targets for the end-of-course summative exam. While it has always been good practice, teachers are now required to ask and answer the questions "What are the most important things to learn this year?", "In specific and measurable terms, where are my students now?", and "What do I have to do to get them to the goal post?" SLOs can also create the conditions for teachers to know explicitly where students are falling down so that teachers can correct their course.
Where Are We Now?
The 2011–12 school year saw educators in New York grappling with an almost overwhelming number of coming changes. The 2012–13 year marks the arrival of those changes. This past fall has mostly focused on the accountability/evaluation aspect of New York's agenda. New evaluations are mostly in place and SLOs are written. This winter will mark a renewed focus on Common Core best practices and integrating the data cycle into the classrooms and buildings. Later this year will be a time for large-scale reflection and a time to really highlight and build upon this year's bright spots.
Michael DeCaprio is the assistant facilitator for the Race to the Top network team at the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Board of Cooperative Educational Services (WSWHE BOCES) in upstate New York. His K–12 career has included being an ELA secondary classroom teacher, a preK–12 director, and a chief information officer at the district level. Michael is also an ASCD 2012 Emerging Leader. He blogs about the K–12 world at http://adirondackeducation.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ADKEducation.
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