The Learning Sciences Marzano Center introduces our series: Five Ways to Get the Best from Common Core. To help you prepare for changes with Common Core Standards and new teacher and principal evaluation systems, we'll offer a brief, informational article once a week for the next several weeks to answer these five vital questions:
- What does Common Core really change?
- How will Formative Assessment help teachers succeed?
- How will PARCC and SBAC Assessments impact teacher practice?
- Common Core increases student achievement – seriously?
- What kinds of training will teachers need to implement Common Core?
Common Core is a Second Order Change: Understand It and Thrive
Second order changes are the great, seismic shifts in practice and understanding that occasionally happen in any profession or domain. They are different in type from first order change, which is often superficial and determined from the top down. The research on first-order change in schools is enlightening:
There is evidence that one of the reasons schools remain unchanged is that the reforms or changes have been superficial in nature and/or arbitrary in their adoption. Teachers and schools often went through the motions of adopting the new practices, but the changes were neither deep nor long-lasting. In other words, the outward manifestations of the changes were present, but the ideas or philosophy behind the changes were either not understood, misunderstood, or rejected. Consequently, any substantive change in the classroom experience or school culture failed to take root. The illusion of change is created through a variety of activities, but the qualitative experience for students in the classroom remains unchanged when the ideas driving daily practice remain unchanged. (Fouts, 2003)
But the shift to Common Core State Standards is an example of second order change. It is a shift in the philosophical thinking about the nature of teaching and learning. This shift basically says: We will no longer teach students to memorize by rote, to understand superficial facts and figures without more nuanced understanding, applicable to real-world problems. Rather, we will teach them to analyze, to generate and test hypotheses. We will ask them to think like mathematicians rather than just do math. We will ask them to think like writers rather than just scribble sentences. We will ask them to use complex cognitive skills to analyze the very complex problems they face as citizens in the 21st century.
It's an argument that most of us understand intuitively. Any student can find facts with a simple Google search. But the cognitive skill to analyze, to weigh, to test, must be learned. And teachers are uniquely positioned to drive that learning. Once teachers, students, and staff embrace the philosophical shift required by Common Core, their resistance to change will lessen.
However, there is a sticking point.
The Common Core curriculum itself will not look radically different from the lessons teachers have been presenting all along. The deep change takes place in how teachers teach that curriculum, what they do in the classroom to foster the higher-order cognitive skills that Common Core calls for.
The change to Common Core calls for lessons to go deep, not broad.
Did you know: a recent study found that only five percent of classroom teachers taught analysis, generation of hypotheses, and critical thinking skills? Teachers may in fact be woefully underprepared for the shift to Common Core State Standards.
School leaders are up to the challenge of aligning the vision of their schools to meet the new philosophical shift embedded in Common Core. But teachers will need training to meet the challenges in teaching this more complex way of learning. We can help. Our Common Core series of trainings shows teachers precisely how to align the curriculum standard to a classroom practice that meets these new demands.
Will Formative Assessment Help Teachers Succeed with Common Core? The Short Answer: Yes.
Here's a sobering thought. In a recent National Journal series, John Bailey warned school leaders to be aware that Common Core standards in themselves aren't enough to significantly impact student learning:
There is no reason to believe that the Common Core standards in and of themselves will lead to higher achievement. They are not a curriculum, they are not innovative pedagogical strategies, they are not professional development activities that will produce better teachers.
What Baily was saying is that without a strategically planned program for helping teachers get the best results from Common Core, the initiative would most likely flounder. And that's exactly why your school needs a plan for formative assessment.
Formative assessment, as defined by Popham (2008) "is the process in which evidence of students' understanding is used by teachers to adjust instructional practice." It is process of gradual improvement that relies on strong feedback loops to drive student learning. A study by John Hattie and Helen Timperley (2007) found that students engaged in a strong feedback loop showed a whopping 29 percentile gain in student achievement – nearly double that for traditional educational interventions.
Formative assessment enhances learning. It tracks student progress over time (and tracking student progress itself has been associated with improvement gains as high as 31 percentile points.) Formative assessment tells a teacher how every student in the class is progressing. It tells which students need extra instruction.
The National Mathematics Advisory Panel (2008) has recommended regular use of formative assessment so that teachers can adapt their approach depending on each student's learning. "Teachers' regular use of formative assessment improves their students' learning, especially if teachers have additional guidance on using the assessment to design and individualize instruction" the panel noted.
With the introduction of Common Core, formative assessment is more important than ever. It will not be enough to simply cover the curriculum. Students are being asked to develop new 21st century skills. Teachers are being asked to guide their students in that development. Because the skills being taught are new, as are the strategies for teaching them, there is potential for both students and teachers to derail.
But a plan for formative assessment can keep everyone on track.
The Learning Sciences Marzano Center can help you and your teachers plan for Common Core Implementation with our exclusive series of six Common Core professional development trainings. We'll show you how formative assessment can help teachers monitor their own practice and their students' understanding for the best results.
PARCC and SBAC Assessments: Another reason to panic?
In just three short years, the new assessments designed to align to Common Core will be in place. Many districts are already piloting them. Clearly, schools will be making big changes and those changes may cause some anxiety. But take a closer look. There is a world of new opportunities with the new assessments that will allow every educator to improve the lives of students.
Here's just one to consider: Students and teachers will now receive formative and summative assessment results throughout the school year. The information gathered from PARCC* and SBAC** assessments will allow teachers to adjust instruction based on feedback and schools will be able to closely monitor their Common Core progress.
Here's another amazing opportunity: Eighty percent of U.S. students will be taking the same tests to assess the same content and the same skills. Educators will be able to compare those results across the state and across the nation. Instead of a patchwork of state standards, educators will have a much more comprehensive view of student learning in the United States. This fundamental shift in the educational landscape will foster an explosion of new ideas as educators collaborate.
That's great news for students, great news for teachers, and great news for administrators. There are, however, potential pitfalls.
Are Teachers Prepared to Teach Complex Thinking?
When analyzing current state student assessments and comparing them to PARCC and SBAC, researchers have found that the cognitive levels tested by the new assessments are dramatically different from previous requirements. SBAC assessments test a range of complex thinking skills. A sample Grade 4 English Language Arts (ELA) question, for example, requires students to:
Write or revise one or more paragraphs demonstrating ability to state opinions about topics or sources: set a context, organize ideas, develop supporting evidence/reasons and elaboration, or develop a conclusion appropriate to purpose and audience.
Here's the big challenge: Educators need to be prepared to support and facilitate a deep shift in current classroom practice. This shift will require teachers to emphasize higher order, complex thinking skills as the end goal of student learning. Students must learn to analyze, generate hypotheses, and draw conclusions based on evidence.
Unfortunately, in the vast majority of U.S. classrooms, many teachers are not prepared to confidently make this shift. Many teachers haven't learned the strategies needed to teach critical thinking. Even fewer understand how to scaffold lessons, building from an introduction of new concepts to progressively more complex understanding and critical thinking.
Teachers will be required to make their own cognitively complex leaps to develop and align their classroom practice to the demands of Common Core. The one key to their success: Guided, deep, and continuous professional development.
But there's more good news: These challenges can be met with proper training. Even better, Learning Sciences Marzano Center has developed a series of Common Core trainings precisely designed to address this necessary shift in classroom practice, giving every educator the tools they need to make each of their students successful.
*PARCC – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers
**SBAC – SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium
Will Common Core State Standards Increase Student Achievement?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Here's some sobering news. According to a recent study by Joshua Goodman at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, changes to state standards over the last 20 years haven't had much impact on student achievement, if any.
Goodman's study concludes that standards have not been linked to student growth except in schools where teaching is poor. "Little is known ... about how the quality of written standards translates into improvements in curriculum, pedagogy, and student achievement," he concludes. One possible takeaway? Common Core may not raise student achievement either.
And Goodman's study reiterates previous cautions from other experts. As Finn and Petrilli noted in 2010:
Standards describe the destination that schools and students are supposed to reach, but by themselves have little power to effect change.
The study may be causing administrators and teachers, tasked with implementing the new Common Core standards next year, a great deal of concern. But Goodman's study doesn't tell the whole story.
Essentially, the study implies that standards in themselves can't drive gains in student achievement. However, state standards linked to effective teaching practices can.
As we have seen in this series, Common Core Standards are focused on teaching higher-order thinking skills. The standards are informed by the educational practices of other top-performing countries so that all students are prepared to succeed in a global economy. They are aligned with college and career expectations, developing 21st-century skills such as analysis and critical thinking. They are more rigorous than past state standards. The broader goal of Common Core is to create common opportunities for all United States students.
These are worthy goals. But are teachers thoroughly prepared to guide students toward success?
Fortunately, researchers have identified the instructional strategies most likely to correlate with student achievement. These "high-probability" strategies are uniquely suited to fulfill the aims of Common Core. The strategies include establishing clear learning goals, helping students interact with new knowledge, and helping students to practice and deepen their knowledge. The vital question school leaders should be asking themselves as they begin to implement Common Core Standards is this:
How skilled are the teachers in my school at effectively using the high-probability strategies most likely to drive student success? And what can I do as a leader to help them build these skills?
What Kinds of Training Will Teachers Need to Implement Common Core?
As we have discussed in previous articles, Common Core State Standards require very different types of knowledge skills than most teachers have much experience with in the classroom. We have noted that only 5 percent of lessons across K-12 classrooms typically involve training and practice in higher-order thinking skills such as generating hypotheses and analysis of arguments.
If teachers are ill-prepared to teach these types of lessons, schools implementing Common Core will certainly experience a dip in student test scores with the new PARCC and SBAC assessments, and unless teachers receive the specific training, coaching, and feedback they need to be successful, the dip may turn into a long-term decline.
It's important that teachers and school and district administrators are aware of another potential trap: Teachers must not jump directly into exercises around higher-order thinking skills in an effort to meet Common Core without setting a precise and stable foundation of knowledge skills, building progressively toward the goal of student-directed, cognitively complex tasks. Without such a stable foundation, student test scores may decline.
The ideal teacher training will focus on a learning progression that begins with communicating clear learning goals and setting scales or rubrics for tracking student progress. This foundation will lead to helping students interact with the specific new knowledge they need to think through and evaluate higher-order problems. Teachers will then use specific strategies to practice and deepen this new knowledge with students. All these classroom activities are teacher directed. The final step is to move toward student directed generating and testing of hypotheses, or what we sometimes refer to as "discovery learning."
Teacher training for Common Core, not surprisingly, follows a similar progression. A solid foundation in Common Core is followed by trainings focused on the progression we have outlined above – from understanding how to align learning goals to Common Core standards through problem-based learning in authentic real-world tasks. The training concludes with strategies to maintain high student engagement high.
Learning Sciences Marzano Center has developed this foundational progression of trainings for teacher mastery of Common Core instructional strategies. Our trainings ensure that school administrators, teachers, and students will feel confident in their ability to implement Common Core with fidelity, to avoid dips in morale or student scores, and to move forward into building creative, cognitively skilled students who are more than prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.
We can help you assess your teachers' readiness to succeed with Common Core. Use the form on the right to get the conversation started.