Academic journal article Language Arts

Advocacy at the Core: Inquiry and Empowerment in the Time of Common Core State Standards

Academic journal article Language Arts

Advocacy at the Core: Inquiry and Empowerment in the Time of Common Core State Standards

Article excerpt

Teacher professionalism is at a threshold. Moral purpose and change agentry are implicit in what good teaching and effective change are about, but as yet they are society's (and teaching's) great untapped resources for radical and continuous improvement.

-Michael G. Fullan, "Why Teachers Must Become

Change Agents" (1993)

Twenty years after Fullan's charge to teachers, states across the nation are implementing the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010), and teachers find themselves at another threshold. Many states have eased into adoption over a span of years, with educators slowly dipping their toes into the waters of curriculum design, implementation, and assessment. As assessment deadlines draw nearer, however, many educators are nervous that with full implementation of the new Standards, our profession's "resources for radical and continuous improvement" will continue to go untapped. I have spent the last three years working with the Standards in my classroom, and have found that the Standards and change are not mutually exclusive. Students can master the Standards within a framework of critical, empowering, and engaging lessons.

My Experience with State Implementation

In 2009, even before the final publication of the CCSS, my state legislature passed Senate Bill 1, also known as the Student Assessment Act (2009). Among other educational reforms, this bill called for the CCSS to be implemented at the classroom level in August 2011 and assessed in May 2012. The scores from the assessment would be used to determine state, district, and school's achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). From a classroom teacher's perspective, this was a rapid turnaround.

To facilitate the implementation of Senate Bill 1, the Department of Education created K-16 networks comprised of teachers, administrators, and instructional leaders from across the state. In the summer of 2010, I was asked to participate in one of these networks as a teacher representing my district. We met one day each month for three years, including summers. One of our first tasks was to deconstruct the new ELA standards (which the state adopted as the "Core Academic Standards") so that as a network we fully understood what they entailed. This work required thoughtful analysis of the reading, writing, language, and speaking and listening Anchor Standards. Once the group as a whole studied the Anchor Standards, we broke into age-level groups to determine what skills and knowledge were needed for mastery of each grade's standards.

We stopped short of delineating each individual learning target; teachers would need to use preassessments and their knowledge of their students to determine which specific learning targets would help their students reach mastery. Rather, the job of the network was to agree upon what phrases such as "develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters" would mean to teachers across the state. This process involved hours of study and discussion, as one teacher's definition of these terms differed vastly from that of another teacher. When it came to putting these definitions into teacher-friendly language and describing mastery at the student level, subtle changes in words led to drastically different interpretations. We often worked in teams, with state facilitators moderating discussion when we encountered differences in interpretation.

One benefit of this process was that teachers who were involved in the networks studied the standards intensely for an entire year. We slowly began to implement the standards in our classrooms, taking note of what worked and what did not work. The network served as a sounding board for participating teachers and provided a safe space in which to discuss the successes and failures of early implementation. I can imagine that many teachers who did not participate in the networks felt unprepared when the Department of Education rolled out the standards in late spring of 2011 for implementation the following school year. …

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