Educators' perspectives on Common Core implementation

A new Harvard University study examines the link between Common Core implementation efforts and changes in student achievement.

Analysts surveyed randomly selected teachers of grades 4–8 (about 1,600 in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Nevada), asking them a number of questions about professional development they’ve received, materials they’ve used, teaching strategies they’ve employed, and more. Analysts used those responses to create twelve composite indices of various facets of Common Core implementation (such as “principal is leading CCSS implementation”) to analyze the link between each index and students’ performance on the Common Core-aligned assessments PARCC and SBAC. In other words, they sought to link teacher survey responses to their students’ test scores on the 2014–15 PARCC and SBAC assessments, while also controlling for students’ baseline scores and characteristics (along with those of their classroom peers) and teachers’ value-added scores in the prior school year.

The bottom line is that this correlational study finds more statistically significant relationships for math than for English. Specifically, three indices were related to student achievement in math: the frequency and specificity of feedback from classroom observations, the number of days of professional development, and the inclusion of student performance on CCSS-aligned assessments in teacher evaluations. Regarding that last finding, schools in which every teacher reported that test scores play a role in teacher evaluations saw bigger math gains (a .18-standard deviation difference) than those in which no teachers said they played a role. (In math, analysts also found that the use of the textbook Go Math! was positively related to student performance.)

In English language arts, the only index that predicted student performance on the PARCC or SBAC ELA tests was “school context,” defined as the degree to which teachers perceive school to be a pleasant place to work (a total head scratcher!). Analysts try to throw an optimistic bone about ELA into their conclusion by saying that old state tests focused heavily on reading comprehension, while the new assessments are more sensitive to writing instruction and may encourage teachers to emphasize more writing (case in point: 86 percent overall say that they have increased attention on writing).

The implementation aspects (or “indices”) not linked to student achievement were also illuminating. They include, among others, fully embracing the Common Core; teachers developing materials with their colleagues; teachers describing substantial shifts in instruction; and teacher collaboration.

It is really tough to attempt to glean research-based, actionable insights from correlating teacher survey and student achievement data. We don’t have a long track record of doing so, which makes this type of research even more important. But at this stage in the game, these findings raise more questions than they can answer.

SOURCE: Thomas J. Kane et al., "Teaching Higher: Educators’ Perspectives on Common Core Implementation," Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University (February 2016).

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. is the Senior Vice President for Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.