Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Communication Is Key to Common Core: Educators Must Begin Now to Prepare Their Communities for How Assessments Will Change after Common Core Implementation

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Communication Is Key to Common Core: Educators Must Begin Now to Prepare Their Communities for How Assessments Will Change after Common Core Implementation

Article excerpt

Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards and are working to develop assessments that align with those new standards. Yet two-thirds of Americans have never heard of the standards or the assessments (Bushaw & Lopez, 2013).

Given the importance of effective communications, the Education Trust commissioned research on how states had communicated changes in state assessments in the recent past. The research included interviews with education leaders in Florida, Georgia, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia (states where new tests were introduced or changes were made to existing tests between 2004 and 2012) and conversations with individuals and organizations from many other states to learn how they communicated changes in assessments.

What emerged from these interviews were practical lessons for all school systems--state education departments, local public school districts, and charter management organizations--that want sound communication strategies that will support a smooth transition to the new assessments. (The numbering of the lessons below is not to suggest a ranking of importance.)

Lesson #1. Take a big-tent approach. Include all stakeholders from the beginning and develop genuine relationships.

A strong communications plan is built on meaningful relationships and partnerships with the full range of stakeholders. Throughout implementation, include diverse constituencies to ensure that all viewpoints are integrated into the communication efforts and that concerns and questions are addressed proactively. This open dialogue builds trust, which will help when potentially difficult news must be shared. A network of genuine partners can also serve as champions and messengers of the need for higher expectations and new assessments. Key strategic partners include advocates, the business community, and, especially important, parents and community members whose input is essential because they're closest to students.

Tennessee provides a prime example of this inclusive approach. In 2008, the Tennessee State Board of Education introduced new, more rigorous standards to address a significant gap in student proficiency identified by comparing the results from their state assessments with results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Though assessments aligned with the new standards wouldn't be administered until spring 2010, Tennessee started right away to build a large and strong coalition and launched an extensive communications campaign.

The state built a coalition of about 30 organizations, including parents, teachers, business and advocacy leaders, school board members, and other elected officials. This coalition was strong in part because it was built on mutual respect, valuing the contributions of school board and parent organizations as much as the governor and SCORE (the statewide education advocacy organization founded by former Sen. Bill Frist). The coalition then developed a comprehensive communications campaign and shared in the work of implementing that campaign plan.

One measure of success was that Tennesseans throughout the state understood that scores on the new assessments would be lower initially than on previous state tests. But, because they also understood the rationale for the change, citizens had greater trust that the change was worth it. The result of well-implemented, strategic communications was trust and understanding even when the initial news was not positive. (See the Expect More, Achieve More web site-- learn about Tennessee's current efforts to roll out the Common Core standards and assessments)

Lesson #2. Be sure to talk and listen.

Developing two-way communications with key stakeholders is critical in building strong relationships and successfully implementing the new assessments.

When included in an authentic way, business leaders are among the biggest champions for high expectations and strong, standards-based assessments. …

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