Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Implementation of Common Core-Based Curriculum in a Fourth-Grade Literacy Classroom: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Implementation of Common Core-Based Curriculum in a Fourth-Grade Literacy Classroom: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

In 2009, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGACBP) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) commissioned a set of national content guidelines now known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); the standards were published the following year (NGACBP & CCSSO, 2010). At present, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards. The CCSS were crafted to guide instruction and were not intended to serve as curriculum (Shanahan, 2015); in fact, the CCSS authors assert that

the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached . . . Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards. (NGACBP & CCSSO, 2010, p. 4)

Nevertheless, many districts have chosen not to embrace this flexibility (Bridges-Rhoads & Van Cleve, 2016). Teachers are often prohibited from exercising their professional judgment and saddled with isolated skills-based purchased curricula (Wall, 2016).

Even in less constraining environments, however, this recommendation-that teachers assume control of how they teach-has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it offers teachers the opportunity to teach in ways that can be adapted to meet the needs of the students they serve. On the other hand, only 20% of surveyed teachers reported they were very prepared to teach the CCSS (Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, 2013); the great majority (72%) said they needed access to additional curriculum resources aligned to the standards. And, lest it be assumed these difficulties have dissipated, a 2016 study by Ajayi demonstrated that teachers believed Common Core-based curriculum materials and professional development remain inadequate. It appears teachers require more support to effectively teach these standards than they have, to date, received.

Given teachers' lack of confidence in their ability to integrate the CCSS in their instruction, it is not surprising that results from CCSS assessments have been disappointing. Some states have adopted tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (2015) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2015), and pass rates on those assessments have ranged from 21% to 60%. New York has implemented its own CCSS-based tests; 31.1% of students in Grades 3-8 scored at the proficient level in English language arts (ELA) in 2013, rising only .2% by 2015 (New York State Education Department, 2015).1

Lack of teacher confidence and concomitant low achievement levels have proved challenging for schools and districts. In this article, I describe an ELA curriculum I developed and implemented in collaboration with a fourth-grade teacher. I argue here that such a curriculum, based on the ELA CCSS and supported by in-class professional development, can increase teachers' expertise and confidence in their ability to provide appropriate instruction for their students. An increase in student achievement may follow.

In service of this effort, I collected achievement data for all students and employed an interview protocol to focus on reading beliefs with six focal students who struggled with literacy. The study addressed three research questions:

* What were fourth-grade student ELA achievement levels and beliefs about literacy prior to and following the implementation of a CCSS-based curriculum?

* What was the collaborating teacher's response to participating in this implementation project?

* What roles did mediating tools play within this literacy learning system?

The CCSS have altered educational expectations, and the ELA CCSS curriculum we implemented mediated the space between the students we served and the standards we expected them to grasp.

Conceptual Framework

The construct of mediation (Vygotsky, 1978) served as the theoretical foundation for teaching and learning in this study (see Figure 1). …

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