What are educators saying about standards implementation?

A recent survey in Ohio offers, from an educator’s point of view, insights on standards implementation that are applicable in the other forty-nine states and D.C. In spring 2016, researchers from the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) surveyed 417 teachers along with 153 principals and administrators working in forty-two Ohio school districts. The survey explored three key questions: What are the most significant implementation challenges? What resources are needed to implement the standards? And are Ohio’s learning standards in math and English changing the focus of instruction?

Teachers cite time constraints as a significant implementation challenge. A majority of teachers (54 percent) say that insufficient class time is a moderate or major challenge, while 41 percent report a lack of planning time. Teachers view these time crunches as greater challenges than other organizational concerns, such as staff turnover, class sizes, or inadequate school resources. Meanwhile, principals view “inadequate lead time to prepare for implementation” as their biggest challenge. Both teachers and administrators note considerable challenges with the wide range of student abilities and the lack of parental involvement, though it’s less clear how exactly these relate to standards implementation.

When it comes to helpful materials, educators generally agree that curriculum resources aligned to standards are of significant value. Teachers also cite digital tools and professional development as important. Meanwhile, both teachers and administrators rank standards-aligned textbooks as the least useful implementation resource. What educators may be implying is that curriculum resources (such as Engage NY) are in and textbooks are out.

The survey finds that some, but not all, teachers are shifting their instructional focus to the content or skills emphasized in the new standards. Ohio’s elementary math teachers report strong coverage of the emphasized content. However, elementary ELA and high school math teachers say that they actually cover more deemphasized content. High school ELA teachers report roughly equal focus. The researchers cannot pinpoint why these patterns exist but it’s worth noting that they are not unique to Ohio; these patterns in content coverage mirror C-SAIL survey results from Kentucky and Texas. This finding has led C-SAIL analysts to conclude that “states and districts could provide more support in helping teachers move away from certain content.”

Raising Ohio’s academic standards has been a crucial school reform. While educators have had the better half of a decade to implement these more rigorous standards—they were first adopted in 2010—this survey describes some of the ongoing implementation challenges. Ohio policymakers—especially those who would have the state shift to yet another set of standards—should keep in mind that proper implementation is not as simple as flipping a switch. And those in other states would be wise to heed this lesson, too.

Sources: Laura M. Desimone, Adam K. Edgerton, and Rui Yang, “Standards implementation in Ohio: Local perspectives on policy, challenges, resources, and instruction,” C-SAIL (March 2017); and Adam Edgerton, Morgan Polikoff, and Laura Desimone, “How is policy affecting classroom instruction?” Brookings Institution/C-SAIL (May 2017).

Aaron Churchill
Aaron Churchill is the Ohio Research Director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.