There's no such thing as the "Common Core Police"

If you're active in social media, you've likely seen something along the lines of...


Note: Rather than drafting a response, I initially thought I could ignore these types of posts or simply invite those closest to me into a conversation outside of social media.  With the number of these posts increasing by the day (or perhaps I am now starting to look for them),  I thought it might be helpful to post my thoughts in one place for easy reading, in the event a few heads might be turned.  Here it is:

Hello!  As a district curriculum director and former high school math teacher,  *I thought it might be helpful to let you know this specific type of homework is not required by the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, the third grade standards mention the word "subtraction" two times. 

One of the third grade subtraction standards says:
"Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction." (Source
I don't know about you, but that sounds to me like a pretty reasonable thing to ask students to learn (and not at all related to the photo!). You might be wondering..."then why are students being required to do this particular subtraction method if it's in a textbook associated with the Common Core?" 

Here's the quick answer in the form of an analogy: Sports memorabilia and clothing are often licensed by the NFL, NBA or MLB.  In other words, if you want to wear a real Chicago Cubs hat, it will have a Cubs logo and MLB logo on it indicating it has been authorized by Major League Baseball.  This is in stark contrast to educational publishers.  There's no such thing as the Common Core Police  For example, if you and I wanted to create a math textbook and stamp "Aligned with the Common Core" on it, we could and no one would stop us from doing so. We could write the most ridiculous math strategies into the textbook. Parents and students across the country would falsely assume this type of learning was synonymous with the Common Core State Standards. It's that easy and it's happening all around us.  Check it out for yourself.  Compare the approaches of the fifth grade textbooks in two neighboring school districts in Iowa and you'll likely see two different philosophies towards teaching the standards.  The Common Core State Standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.

Bottom line: the Common Core State Standards aren't perfect. I invite you to read the standards first hand and come to your own conclusions rather than relying on textbook publishers, bloggers and commentators outside the classroom walls to paint a picture for you. 

I'd be happy to talk with you more about it on the phone or in person if you're interested in learning more based on my work with the standards, publishers and most importantly, teachers.  

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*While the homework problem you posted on your social space may be different, the same ideas I've discussed below likely apply to your situation as well.  


A sample process for identifying reporting standards

In my work with our district and in consulting with several others over the years on the topics of professional learning communities and standards-based grading/reporting, the topic of aligning standards horizontally and vertically frequently comes up.  Before I share a sample process of this alignment work, I thought it might be helpful to answer two frequently asked questions:

Who should be involved in writing, creating, revising the standards we will report to students and parents?
My first response is almost always, "teachers!"  Teachers are the professionals closest to this work and I believe they should play a large role in this decision-making process.  While the district office can provide protocols and templates, we're not teaching these skills and concepts, so it doesn't make sense for us to mandate an arbitrary list without significant teacher input.

Wouldn't it be easier if we copied another district's report card or list of standards?
Sure, it might be easier in the short term.  When the standards are written in a way that doesn't make sense to those teaching them, it becomes easy to throw the standards under the bus.  When the reporting standards need revision and they were written locally, a solution becomes obvious: we can revise them!  It is also important to note that in all of the schools I have worked with, teachers report the most benefit from doing this work.  They learn more about the intent of the state/national standards.  Teachers dig deeper into the wording of the standards and pay closer attention to what a thorough understanding might look like as a result of the cognitive dissonance this process can create.

Now that we hopefully agree teachers should play a prominent role in drafting reporting standards, it only makes sense to share with you a process that seems to be gaining some traction.  It is far from perfect, but I hope it assists at least one person.  (If you find this literacy example beneficial, I'd love to hear from you in the comments).

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1. LOOK AT STATE STANDARDS
2. IDENTIFY "NEED TO KNOW' STANDARDS

A possible protocol that can be used to discern the "need to know" power standards that will appear on the report card.  

i) For each standard, individually complete the following template
ii) Reach consensus on the Yes and No's through horizontal (i.e. all of the 2nd grade teachers) discussion.

iii) If a standard has 3-4 "Yes," it should strongly be considered in the "Need to Know" (Power Standard) category to be included on the report card.

iv) Depending on the number of 4s and perhaps 3s, the team will need to determine a reasonable number of standards that can be assessed and reporting in each reporting period.

v) After horizontal agreement, meet with at least one grade level above (i.e. second grade teachers meet with third grade teachers) and at least one grade level below (i.e. fourth grade teachers meet with third grade teachers) to reach vertical consensus on the list of "need to know" power standards proposed for the report card.

[IF NEEDED, RE-WRITE THESE STANDARDS INTO PARENT/STUDENT-FRIENDLY LANGUAGE]
  • Example 6th grade reading parent/student-friendly language (from Waukee Middle School, Iowa)

3. IDENTIFY ASSESSMENTS THAT MATCH THE STANDARDS
  • Look at the assessments you are already giving to students.  
  • Match up prompts/questions that elicit students' understanding.
Sample rubric below (used with permission from Lori Davidson, Center Point - Urbana teacher)

You may find out your assessments are not as well aligned to the standards as you'd like.  This is an opportunity to revise assessments and/or create new ones that better align to the "need to know" standards. 

4. (TRY IT OUT!) GIVE STUDENTS SCORES BASED ON STANDARDS FOR ONE UNIT 
  • Administer and score at least one of the assessments you identified in Step #3 to discern the coarse or fine grain-ness of the standards (see note below).
By completing the steps above, each horizontal team of teachers will begin to figure out the appropriate number of "need to know" standards for each reporting period.  When it is challenging to score the assessments based on the standards, the standards may be too vague.  When it becomes challenging to keep up with scoring and reassessments (or if it is challenging to write reassessments), the standards may be too specific.  Finally, the number of "need to know" standards must be viable enough for the majority of students to learn them in a given year.  It is more important for students to learn...than it is to merely cover the content!



Standards-Based Grading: College admissions

A teacher from a local school district (perhaps in response to a local TV station's news story) emailed me with the following inquiry last week:

Matt,

I had a teacher make the following argument against SBG and I would like your thoughts so I can be as prepared as possible...

They said that some of the more prestigious schools of higher learning are not accepting students grades that went through a SBG system as accurate because of the opportunities to reassess. I believe the example he cited was the Naval Academy.   He indicated that a student was told they would need to attend the U of I for a year to prove themselves before their application would be considered.

Have you heard of this craziness?

Thanks,
[Name]
Here was my response:
It is good to hear from you.  I had not heard about the Naval Academy or similar examples.  Here are a few things that may be worth sharing with this teacher and others as it comes up.
  • Our high school transcript has not changed, therefore unless college/university admissions offices treat our students just as they have prior to standards-based grading (in other words, the information teachers use to generate a grade for a class has changed to more accurate reflect learning, however a letter grade still exists and is reported)
  • We know that some students who are homeschooled do not receive letter grades, however they are admitted to colleges and universities across the country based on their evidence of learning such as academic portfolios, ACT or SAT scores, etc.  
In summary, I cannot believe this Naval Academy example is true.  The college admissions representatives and administrators I've talked with over the years readily admit the rigor or grades varies from school to school and that the changes we've made in our district will not negatively impact our students. 
What insights do YOU have for this "craziness?" 
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Update: 
Thank you, Brad Latzke for pointing out the Hanover Research Council’s Study on 
Standards-Based Grading and College Admissions

Eight Questions from ASCD


ASCD asked me a few questions.  They posted the responses on one of their blogs.




A new academic journey

This year will mark my eleventh in education, fifth as a school administrator.  I have spent five of the past ten years simultaneously completing graduate coursework and a working full-time job.  This summer, I embarked on yet another academic journey: I completed the first semester of an Ed.D. program.  I couldn't be happier with my decision to enroll at the University of West Georgia (UWG).  Before I share a little bit about the coursework so far, I thought it might be helpful to explain why a doctorate and why UWG's school improvement program.

Why an Ed.D.?
When I completed my first graduate program at a research one institution in 2009, my advisor took me aside less than an hour after oral comps and asked me if I'd ever considered continuing on for a Ph.D.  At the time, I was a math teacher and was looking forward to an increase in pay due to the newly acquired degree in curriculum and instructional technology, so it should come as no surprise that a possible assistantship covering tuition and a small stipend did not appear to add up!  I couldn't see myself giving up a full-time job and going back to school full-time for three to five years.  Neither could my wife...and that was before we had our son.  When I went back to graduate school a second time for administration while continuing to work full-time, it was with the idea of the coursework being one last cognitive hurrah.  At the time, attaining a terminal degree felt like a distant and dreamy aspiration.

Fast forward to about a year ago, only one year after finishing the second program.  I was at a meeting with a number of other central office administrators.  In conversation with a fellow curriculum director, I learned about his journey: masters degree in education and additional coursework in administration (sound familiar?).  He shared about transferring some of his additional coursework into the doctoral program at one of our state universities while still maintaining a full-time job.  It seemed too good to be true, so over the next several months, I contacted department chairs and several trusted faculty friends.  They all confirmed a doctoral degree would require a great amount of persistence, but it would not be uncommon to transfer in a few post-masters hours, as long as I did it now to meet credit recency requirements.  All of a sudden, a terminal degree came back into the picture.  I was told it would be a challenge to prioritize time, make it work financially, and persevere through a dissertation, but that it could be done.  Could I finally act on this distant and dreamy aspiration of researching and writing about a narrow topic in the field of education while working full-time?  Thankfully, my lovely wife supported me fully moving forward, knowing the cost would only increase in the future and our time together as a family would be impacted to a smaller degree now when compared to the years ahead of us.

Why the University of West Georgia?
I eagerly updated my resume, requested letters of recommendation and completed the application for summer/fall 2014 admission consideration.  To make a long story short, I decided to apply at one of the three Iowa public universities, but then, the harsh Iowa winter of 2013-14 hit.  We had a fair amount of snowfall and record low temperatures. Driving over sixty miles each way at least once per week for class was out of the picture.  Around the same time, I learned about the University of West Georgia's Ed.D. in school improvement through Google searches.  It seemed too good to be true:

  • NCATE accredited public brick-and-mortar university
  • program with over ten face-to-face cohorts and three hybrid cohorts preceding me
  • hybrid coursework primarily completed online from home with several spring/summer visits to campus in Carrollton, Georgia
  • interdisciplinary school improvement focus marrying my curriculum and educational leadership coursework and experience
  • ...and let's be real, in-state tuition for out-of-state students enrolling in the program (cheaper than in-state Iowa tuition) didn't hurt either.

Earlier this summer, the on-campus orientation was a fantastic opportunity to meet several UWG faculty members, the twenty-three other cohort members and see the campus from which I plan to earn a final degree.  I had no idea nearly one hundred applicants were interested in our twenty-four cohort slots.  I also learned UWG is a vibrant, growing and well-respected institution within the University System of Georgia.  Lord willing, I will complete the coursework and dissertation in three years, so that I can walk across the stage in April 2017.  I have no idea if additional academic reading will spur additional blogging topics or if time split between family, work and graduate courses will even allow for it.  This "in between semesters" feeling of free time to think and read at leisure surely won't last long. :) 

The new journey has started!