Several weeks ago,
Education First—a national education policy and strategic consulting
firm—released the
first in what will be a series of three reports
aimed at providing guidance to states as
they work to develop Common Core implementation plans. Yesterday, Education
First and Achieve together released the second report, a “Common
Core State Standards Implementation Rubric and Self-Assessment Tool.
” While
imperfect, this rubric is a useful tool that can help push states thinking
about standards implementation.

State policy leaders should commit these differences to memory.

Among the most useful
elements of the report is Table 1, which outlines the “key instructional
shifts” that ELA and math teachers will face as they begin to shift instruction
to the Common Core. Drawn from advice produced by Student Achievement
, the guidance is simple, but more clearly outlines the essential
differences between the Common Core and most existing state standards than most
of the “crosswalk” comparisons
that state Departments of Education have
undertaken to date. On the ELA side, for instance, the authors explain that the
CCSS will focus on:

  • Building knowledge through content-rich
    nonfiction and informational texts 
  • Reading and writing grounded in evidence from
  • Regular practice with complex text and its
    academic vocabulary 

This very clearly and
succinctly highlights some of the key differences between the Common Core and
existing state standards. State policy leaders should commit it to memory.

And, even more helpfully,
the authors frequently hearken back to these “instructional shifts” and push
states to focus their curriculum and professional development efforts on
helping teachers address those shifts in their classrooms. As states move to
implement the Common Core, it’s critical that they focus on these big-picture
shifts first, rather than getting bogged down in relatively minor content
differences between the CCSS and a state’s previous standards, so this advice
is spot on.

In the teacher evaluation
section, the authors also make the important link between holding teachers
accountable for CCSS-aligned outcomes and ensuring that districts and schools
target professional development activities to identified gaps in teacher
knowledge and skill. This link between teacher evaluation and professional
development is a critical and often overlooked element of standards
implementation and planning.

While the
rubric is useful, there is still room for improvement.

Of course, while the
rubric is useful, there is still room for improvement. For starters, while the
authors claim that the rubric is focused on defining “what” states should do
without delineating “how” they should go about achieving their outcomes, they
occasionally miss the mark. For example, the rubric specifically demands that
state with “exemplary” implementation plans, at a minimum, provide “an aligned
model curriculum framework.”

Developing a curriculum
framework is one way that states can help schools and teachers align
instruction to the Common Core, but it’s certainly not the only way. And, given
scarce resources, one wonders whether it’s prudent to encourage states to
develop such frameworks themselves rather than, say, identifying a menu of high
quality curricular options that allow some flexibility while also helping to
align instruction around the new standards.

In addition, some
indicators are unclear and may steer states in the wrong direction. For
instance, the authors explain that “exemplary” states are those that plan “to
connect the measures for teachers in [non-tested subjects and grades]—such as
student learning objectives, adapted classroom assessments, or portfolios of
student work—to the CCSS.” While it’s useful to prompt states to think about
how to hold teachers in non-tested subjects and grades accountable for CCSS
implementation, it might be an overreach to suggest that evaluations for all
teachers in the building can be meaningfully linked to the CCSS.

On balance, however, the
rubric is a useful frame that can help guide state-level implementation

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