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  • Common Core State Standards, Factors Influencing Student Achievement, Responsive Coaching, Teacher Evaluation, Autism

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Interview with Janie Fienberg on the Common Core State Standards

The Common Core Standards are not only important, but confusing, as well. In a recent interview, JP's President and founder clears up the confusion surrounding the standards and shares why they are so important for educators to understand.

Q. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a hot issue these days. Why is that? Why now?

A. The standards are a "hot issue" first, because it will drastically change the way teachers teach. It raises the bar significantly, especially in the area of text complexity. Our students are going to be required not just to deliver the information the teacher wants to hear - Initiate, Respond, Evaluate, which has been the process until now - but to provide thoughtful and in-depth answers about text dependent questions. These are national standards that ALL children will be expected to attain in ELA, math, and content area subjects. It means a real shift in teaching and learning for Pre-K-12. Research tells us that currently approximately 80% of what is read by or to younger children, K-2, is literature or narrative. Now that percentage is going to change with non-fiction becoming more prevalent throughout grades K-2. It is important to have strategies like effective Think Alouds or Read Alouds in place in Pre-K-and for that to happen teachers must receive effective, evidenced-based, job embedded professional development. In order for teachers to feel comfortable with these changes, they will need consistent, continuous support in implementing this new shift. For our older grades, there will be much more in-depth analysis of our texts. Teachers will need to be trained on how to provide students with more effective questioning techniques and strategies on how to question the author-what the author wrote, how they wrote it, why they wrote it, etc. To summarize, this is a real shift in how we teach and how children will learn and, therefore, the Standards are a hot topic. Any time change occurs, that particular change becomes the source of much discussion. The topic is also hot at this particular time because the assessments for the Standards will be rolling out 2013-2014. Online assessments will be forthcoming in 2014-2015. So many new things, including teacher evaluations, are happening, and teachers feel overwhelmed. Rightfully so! So many new initiatives at one time can certainly cause anxiety. We, who are in charge of teacher training-principals and professional development providers, must recognize this anxiety and fully support our teachers' PD needs.

Q. What are some of the problems and hopes for implementing Common Core?

A. I like to frame this as challenges rather than problems - I think it puts a different spin on it. Some of the challenges are having the resources, including that precious commodity of time, to make sure the Standards are implemented effectively. Again, it is HOW we do something, not just what we are doing. Teachers must, again, have the most effective PD we can provide. The one indisputable fact throughout all the research is the teacher of quality is the number one factor in closing the achievement gap. Therefore, let's make sure our teachers are fully prepared to know how to teach the Standards. If we don't provide evidenced-based PD, then this initiative will fail. It could appear on reading the Standards, for example, that teachers just need to teach the grade level Standards in sequence of how they are presented - UNTRUE! These are not a set of isolated skills grade by grade as in the past. There are anchor Standards that are taught across all the grades- they just get more sophisticated as the students' skills increase. Teachers can no longer remain in their traditional role of teaching just their grade requirements- we must make even KGD children ready for college and career Standards. This is a totally different mindset. It can no longer be the isolated classroom. PD must provide teachers with how to work in PLC's so that a team of teachers can formulate effective lessons and assessments. These challenges can become problems if we are not planning the implementation of the Standards with close attention to all the necessary details: appropriate planning time; effective PD; continuous, on-going coaching. The hope for the CCSS is that ALL children will now have to have a common knowledge base. ALL our children will be, in fact, be college and career ready. In addition, my supreme hope is that, with a new mindset and a new set of teaching skills, the achievement gap that plagues our country can be eliminated. No matter where our children go to school, no matter how often they move, ALL children will be required to meet the same standards.

Q. Can you outline what a successful implementation of the standards would look like?

A. Evidenced-based professional development (PD) is the foundation for a successful implementation of the Standards. Teachers need to experience a close reading of the Standards assigned to each grade and the foundational/anchor Standards that go across all grades in order for our students to be college and career ready. JP has a series of PD workshops that can be customized to meet the needs of a particular school/district in terms of where that school/district is in the process of implementing the Standards. One of the first steps is to conduct a Needs Assessment so a Gap Analysis can be completed to determine how the schools' current curriculum aligns with the Common Core Standards. How do we unpack the "Outcome" standards to meet the needs for ALL students' and improve teaching and learning through assessment? Teachers need to know how to identify high quality instructional materials using evidenced-based indicators. Then they need to learn how to use their new found knowledge of these indicators to develop instructional content and strategies that bridge any gaps. Developing a deeper understanding of how to differentiate instruction through teaching practices will enable all teachers to meet the needs of Special Needs Students, English Language Learners, and Standard English Learners. One of the biggest areas in which teachers need support is how to formulate effective, on-going assessments that ensure there is mastery of the particular Standards. Assessments provide information that can and should be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Teachers should be trained in how assessment becomes formative assessment-- when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs. In addition, it is important for teachers to learn how formative assessments help them identify and name areas of strengths for students. Teachers will to learn how to identify the purpose of assessment starting with the end in mind; align assessment to the standards and ideally to the curriculum and instruction, and ensure the quality of assessments. Part of a successful implementation of the Standards will be training a school how to form effective, efficient PLC's. For the first time, a school must work together to ensure that from Kindergarten through 12th grade, all students are experiencing the same high level of learning. The research has shown that when teachers learn to work in small professional learning communities, this group effort greatly enhances the ability of teachers to plan effective lessons that meet the needs of all their students. Teachers will need to be supported with on-going coaching in the classroom. To expect a teacher to implement these many, new and varied processes without guided practice in real time in the classroom is absurd. To do so, would be like showing a 16 year old all about the dash board on a car, taking him/her practicing for a few times in a parking lot and then asking that adolescent to get on an expressway. I, absolutely, believe that without on-going, job-embedded, side by side coaching in those classrooms during instruction this initiative will fail!

Q. Principals and teachers are feeling overwhelmed these days, feeling more and more is being placed on their plates. What would you say to them regarding the addition of the Standards?

A. First, as I stated earlier, I think we need to verify their feelings of being overwhelmed. So many new initiatives are being rolled out for the first time, that it is, truly, overwhelming! "Saying" that we will make it easier for educators to implement these new Standards is an empty gesture. Let's actually DO what is necessary to stem their anxiety. This is a process. Let's start by giving our teachers the most schema we can provide for them about the Standards. Let's provide them with specific, practical, take-it-back-to-the-classroom strategies that will make them feel successful immediately! Let's have expert coaches in their classrooms guiding their practice as our teachers implement something new! Let's make sure that teachers have regularly scheduled planning time and support from the instructional leader who understands the demands of implementing the Standards. And, let's show teachers that once they create these lessons that have the Standards embedded in them, they will have more effective lessons that reach ALL their students. We need to guide their practice and structure their practice in small bites, so that the implementation of the Standards becomes manageable and understandable for our teachers. We, both administrators and professional development providers, need to let teachers know we will be their partner in this process every step of the way!

Q.What do the standards mean for improving instruction in the U.S.?

A. I believe the Standards will be a major influence in changing the face of education as we know it. Now, for the first time, ALL students will be held to a certain level of knowledge that is consistent across zip codes! Children in poverty areas will be receiving the same education as students who live in high to middle income areas. There will be no more room, if done effectively, for a watered down curriculum for our special needs students. It has been shown that our students steeped in the culture of poverty move from school to school far more often than their middle class peers. With the introduction of the Standards, no matter where students move, the curriculum should be consistent. Right now, 38% of freshman in 4 year colleges are dropping out. Over 40% of freshman at community colleges need remediation courses prior to entering into the regular college curriculum. Employers are telling educators that our students are not prepared for the job opportunities that are out there. The implementation of the Standards will help to stem these dismal statistics. And, our teachers will improve their ability to teach all students. Again, if provided with the appropriate PD, our teachers will begin to be and feel successful with students whom they previously failed. Success builds upon success. A teacher of quality is the number one factor in closing the achievement gap. I believe that the Standards will improve the academic effectiveness of our teachers which will, in turn, significantly increase student achievement.

This was taken from a special edition of our RSN Newsletter in January 2013 featuring the Common Core State Standards. You can view the issue by clicking here.

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