Common Core State Standards-Through the Looking Glass

SPOTLIGHT On EXCELLENCE    Issue 24     March 2013


From the Office of Academics, Hartford Public Schools

Chief Academic Officer, Carole R. Collins Ayanlaja, Ph.D.



Common Core State Standards-Through the Looking Glass

Education is a dynamic field where information flows at a fast rate. Terminology, schools of thought, and initiatives come and go at rapid speed.  Our understanding of the shifts in our field requires us to look at change like we look through a looking glass.  The images we see may differ depending on how we turn the looking glass.  The clarity upon which we see through the glass may be altered by the lens we use to view.  Our ability to effectively integrate teaching and learning theory, policy, and practice so that their union guarantees success for the students we serve, is driven by the depth of which we understand what and why we teach, and how we are to teach it. The need to be introspective, investigative, and innovative about content, instruction, and delivery is very timely with the rollout of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 
Educators recognize that CCSS has arrived.  But, it’s meaning and impact is not universally understood.  Questions arise:  How do Common Core State Standards differ from existing state standards?  What do these standards look like on paper and in practice? What resources and knowledge do principals, teachers, students, and parents need in order to build our capacity to implement common core instruction that leads to high levels of student success?  How does the Common Core and the SBAC impact school and district “accountability”?
To understand why CCSS and why now, it is important to operate from these contexts:
First, Common Core State Standards are a framework guided by a philosophical shift which is led by collaborative decision making.
Secondly, building capacity for the implementation of CCSS in Hartford Public Schools requires us to understand trends that have led to its inception and develop common principles which guide our thought and action as we implement.  
Thirdly, to understand and implement Common Core State Standards we will be proactive and interactive.  Overtime, all stakeholders: policy makers, researchers, and practitioners, will continue to gain more knowledge through intradistrict, interdistrict, and extensive alliances that will connect communities of thought and broaden practice networks for teachers and leaders.
What we have seen when we have looked through the lens of our looking glass on what we teach and how we assess has changed over time.   Three categories help us establish the transition in our thinking:  Before Standards based Education; During the Standards Movement; and Under the Common Core (Kendall, 2011):
Before Standards based Education:
  1. Time available drives the amount of time teachers spend on teaching material.
  2. Teaching curriculum is defined by the textbook.
  3. Student outcomes are described by seat time
  4. Student expectations in textbooks are measured in Carnegie Units.
  5. Students are infrequently assessed and compared against a national sample.
  6. Reform is not systemic. It is school or district based.
During the Standards Movement:
  1.  Often there is not enough instructional time to address all standards.
  2. Standards drive the curriculum, but the curriculum development is not aligned with standards development.
  3. Student outcomes are criterion based.
  4. Student expectations vary from state to state moving from course descriptions to college and career-ready criteria.
  5. The purpose of NCLB assessment is accountability and to clarify student performance by subgroup.     
  6. Reform varies by state to state. 
Under the Common Core:
  1.  More time is applied to depth of inquiry, not just the learning of skills.
  2. CCSS and aligned curriculum are expected to be coordinated in instruction.
  3. Student outcome is derived from cross-state standards through a collaborative.
  4. Students develop a body of knowledge and skills for college and career readiness.
  5. The purpose of assessment is accountability and to inform and improve teaching and learning.
  6. Reform in standards, curriculum and assessment is shared among states and territories.
CCSS is reform minded, with a focus of ensuring American students are prepared domestically and internationally for college and work. The Common Core State Standards are pathways for all learners. They provide leaders, teachers, students, and parents a set of objectives which offer a shared understanding of what students are expected to learn so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them ( 
Gaining an understanding of the larger philosophical shifts in the standards movement and what has led us to CCSS is important as we look through our lens on practice and implementation.  Through our shared understanding of the why’s we will be better prepared to move toward the how’s of Common Core State Standards to ensure that we effectively implement in each of our schools and offer our students an environment of high achievement and academic success in this new era.     

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