By Susan Riddell
With the start of the school year, Kentucky teachers will be using the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English/language arts and mathematics, adopted as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, to guide students along the path to college- and career-readiness.
“Kentucky is the first in the nation to fully implement these new standards,” said Karen Kidwell project manager for the Office of Next-Generation Learners at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). “We’ve worked an entire year to lay a foundation, so that makes it exciting for us to do this.”
With the new standards come new expectations.
“There’s an expectation beginning at the start of the school year that (teachers) will use the new common core standards in English/language arts and mathematics,” said Associate Commissioner Felicia Cumings Smith. “That is the bottom line. Teaching English/language arts and mathematics from the Program of Studies or even the Core Content for Assessment is not acceptable. Teachers have to prepare students using the new Kentucky Core Academic Standards on day one because students will be assessed on them in the spring of 2012. They have to get about the business of implementing now.”
Many teachers across the state began focusing on the new standards in July 2010, Kidwell said. Leadership Networks were established throughout the state to help build instructional and leadership capacity at the district level and disseminate information to all teachers regarding the new standards.
“Every district knew that and participated at some level in the work,” Kidwell said. “Teachers have been working to understand the implications of those new standards deeply for both instructional and assessment purposes. None of it should be brand new.”
Kentucky was the first in the nation to adopt the new standards, as the result of 2009’s Senate Bill 1 and a focus on college/career readiness for all students.
When network participants are sharing information with teachers, Cumings Smith and Kidwell said, they’re sharing at all levels. It’s critical that even early primary teachers understand the importance of preparing the youngest learners for college- and/or career, they said.
“There’s an expectation for mastery learning, and the standards are designed in such a way that they get all children ready,” Cumings Smith said. “It starts in kindergarten.”
“And it takes every single teacher, K-12, to get students college- and/or career-ready,” Kidwell added. “This is not just a high school issue because the standards take a systemic approach. If you remove any one part of the system, you no longer have that continuum that will get you to college and/or career ready.”
Teachers must reflect on their own practices
Ken Mattingly is a 7th-grade science teacher at Rockcastle County Middle School. He recently spoke at a content leadership network meeting, talking to lead teachers about learning targets, assessments and grading.
He emphasized the importance of teacher self-reflection.
“It is the most critical thing you can do,” Mattingly said. “If you’re not evaluating your practice, you’re just going under the assumption that what you’re doing works, and our kids are going to have to compete. It used to be that kids competed in their communities, but now it’s a global competition. If we strictly rely on hoping what we do works, then our kids will never be where we need them to be.”
Kidwell said that self-reflection is imperative for making the new standards work in the classroom.
“Teachers are planning highly effective instruction and assessment for every student beginning on day one around those new standards, and they should be engaged in ongoing learning and refinement/reflection on how they are doing that,” Kidwell said. “Teachers must ensure that they are implementing the standards the best that they possibly can.”
While teachers take a good look at their practices, they also must become critical consumers of professional developments and resources, Cumings Smith said.
“Now more than ever, we can’t assume that every product or vendor they are exposed to is aligned to the new common core standards,” she said. “Schools and districts don’t necessarily need to jump at that experience or buy a new product. Everyone wants to sell their product for common core implementation. (Teachers) need to take the time to reflect and analyze their current instructional resources and materials, and how they are aligned to the new standards.”
“And not just those at a topic level,” Kidwell added. “Teachers need to look at actual expectations for what students do with that learning. How are they supposed to process that (resource) or demonstrate their understanding of that standard and use that (product) to look at these materials and resources? You can teach the same topics but miss the new standards altogether if you’re not careful. That’s when we’re going to see the difference in something useful and something not beneficial to the new standards.”
Another part of the reflection process involves networking with teachers both in district and out.
Kidwell said this is a perfect time for teachers to get together to make decisions on resources and practices and to ask questions.
“‘Are these the right ones to move forward with, or how can I share them with other teachers who might need these resources more than I need them now?’” Kidwell asked.
“While different districts will do things differently, all of our districts have some of the same issues,” Kidwell added. “For example, every 2nd-grade teacher in the state is really working from a defined set of common standards, so they are going to be able to network and reach out even beyond their districts. They can share good practices in a number of ways with teachers all over the state.”
Targeting the gaps
“You will never get something built if the foundation is not solid,” Kidwell said. “If we’re trying to build toward college- and career-readiness, the foundation has to be built on the new common core standards.”
“There will be curriculum gaps between our former Program of Studies and Core Content for Assessment and what we see now in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards,” Cumings Smith said. Teachers are going to have to reconcile those gaps.”
On KDE’s Leadership Networks: Deliverables page, there are resources to help teachers do that. “We have curriculum shift documents that can help them look from old standards to new (to identify) where the greater shifts are going to be,” Kidwell said.
“There are going to be some significant changes in middle school mathematics,” Kidwell added. “Between grades 5 and 8, solid, conceptual understanding will be even more critical because the high school courses are much more rigorous. That’s significant because mathematics is so specialized. On the English/language arts side, we’ve never intentionally assessed speaking and listening skills. Now, speaking and listening have their own standards, so teachers are going to need resources for speaking and listening.”
Teachers are going to be looking more closely at text complexity through the English/language arts standards, too, Cumings Smith said.
And to better prepare students for what they will face after high school, there is also a greater emphasis on non-literary text. The English/language arts standards include literacy standards specifically for science, social studies/history and technical subject classes.
“That’s going to be a shift, and that’s going to cause some discomfort for some people,” Kidwell said. “The new standards really demand that students engage a lot more with non-fictional text at all levels. When you couple that with the text complexity issue and just finding strong reading material, it’s going to be difficult – for example, reading material that focuses on science at the middle school level. These new literacy standards start at grade 6. We know that’s going to pose a challenge to teachers just to find texts that are at the appropriate level to engage kids and challenge them but not be too difficult that they can’t process it.”
Deconstruction and learning targets
Teacher leaders involved in the content leadership networks have been busy reaching a consensus on the interpretation of the standards over the past year, Kidwell said.
“They engaged in conversations around what would be acceptable evidence of student success around each of the standards,” she said. “Next, they determined the specific and necessary knowledge, reasoning abilities, performance skills, and/or products that the standard calls for or implies. This is the process of deconstruction.”
Mattingly believes that deconstructing the standards is a difficult, time-consuming process, but also a necessary one.
“If someone is saying ‘Here are your standards, deconstruct them,’ there needs to be that understanding of the process and how to go about doing it,” Mattingly said. “It’s a collaborative effort. For me, the biggest value in it is when I sit down with my other 7th-grade teachers, and we start taking the standards and breaking them down, we develop a common understanding of what they mean.
“For mathematics, you have the issue of almost everything being pushed down a grade level, and we’re really going to have to pay attention to the bridge between the old standards and the new,” he added. “We can’t just start with, say, 6th-grade mathematics standards now and expect our kids to be ready when they really didn’t have the prerequisites for that. Until that planning takes place, what sort of ways are you going to assess your kids and make sure they are ready? It’s a different set of standards, but if you really understand how to deconstruct them, you’ll be okay.”
Once deconstructed, the standards are scaffolded into more manageable targets for learning, Kidwell said.
“The targets allow for more precise instructional planning and assessment, providing both teachers and students information to track their learning toward overall competency with the standard,” Kidwell said.
Mattingly encouraged teachers to turn learning targets into attainable “I can” statements, using student-friendly language, and said teachers should always give students a copy of the learning targets for each unit.
Resources and professional development
“Through their district leadership teams, teachers are going to have resources that are continuously developed over the course of next year,” Kidwell said. “They can look to those and to KDE sharing resources that pertain to making wise instructional decisions to support the implementation of these new standards.”
Cumings Smith added that professional development opportunities will be plentiful.
“Teachers should expect their district and school leaders to provide and engage them in professional learning experiences around the new standards implementation that are embedded, so there should be ongoing sense of professionalism for everyone to be engaged in conversations around the standards over the course of the school year,” Cumings Smith said. KDE also will have webcasts archived around text complexity and other resources in iTunesU for downloading to handheld devices.
With all the resources, professional development, self-reflection and focused efforts on implementing the new standards Cumings Smith is confident that Kentucky students will graduate college and/or career ready.
“Teachers will be refining their practices and really thinking about how to engage the learner with the content in new and different ways,” Cumings Smith said. “That’s going to be critical for transforming education in Kentucky as a result of these new standards.”
Felicia Cumings Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org, 502-564-9850, ext.4151
Karen Kidwell, email@example.com, (502) 564-2106