Getting it Right

shutterstock_11033293All states have renewed their efforts to give every child a quality education by evaluating, and in many cases, overhauling their state education standards. Many states have adopted College and Career Readiness Standards, some have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), some have opted for a hybrid of the CCSS and others have created their own entirely. Whichever standards your state uses, the goal is the same: to ensure that every child graduates high school ready for college or career. National PTA has resources for all states to help parents learn more about the standards.

New standards cannot stand alone. Each state must implement a robust action plan to ensure that the standards can be successful. National PTA, in partnership with the Learning First Alliance, has outlined five key areas where states—in partnership with schools, teachers and parents—should focus efforts in order to make their new standards successful.

  • Alignment of standards, curriculum and assessments—Once states and local communities institute standards that establish the knowledge and skills they believe students must learn, they must put in place curriculum and instructional programs that provide students with opportunities to learn the agreed-upon knowledge and skills.
  • Adequate professional development for teachers and principals—Teachers, principals and schools must have adequate time to understand and implement the standards. Teachers must have access to high-quality training and resources that enable them to successfully develop plans to teach the standards and adequate time with their peers to collaborate, brainstorm and learn best practices.
  • Sufficient resources and support for each child to meet high standards—When done right, standards set the goals and proper assessments (formative and summative) identify gaps in achievement. During the transition to College and Career Ready Standards, assessments play a vital role in helping schools and parents pay particular attention so students do not fall behind. States should plan to provide supports to assist teachers and students, especially those who struggle more to close the gap.
  • Ongoing communication about the importance of standards and accountability—This is the best area for PTA to lead in your state. PTA can facilitate communication between state leaders, district leaders, school personnel, teachers and parents. National PTA has created a wealth of resources to help parents understand the new standards and assessments. The Learning First Alliance has launched a new program that highlights best practices across the country that any leader can use. Utilize allies in your state including education coalitions and groups, the business community, teachers unions, etc. to provide a strong message of support for higher standards and the commitment needed to effectively implement, assess and hold students and teachers accountable for achievement.
  • Balanced and comprehensive accountability systems—New standards require new tests, and new tests require time to adjust accountability. States should encourage state leaders to delay high stakes accountability measures for students, teachers, districts and schools until implementation is successful and the new tests have been evaluated.

PTAs are encouraged to review the 5 Pillars of Successful Implementation and work with education partners at the district, region and state to Get it Right!


Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA.

Common Core and a New Approach to Student Assessment

As states begin implementing the Common Core State Standards, questions about testing and student assessment have, understandably, begun to come up. Common Core’s implementation has given rise to a new approach to assessing student knowledge and academic achievement that drastically changes conventional testing methods.

Since 1981, National PTA has supported nationally agreed-upon voluntary educational standards if they are derived by consensus at the state and local levels. Educational standards are defined as “generally agreed upon criteria which outline what students are expected to learn and to know at various developmental stages.” National PTA firmly believes that families must be involved in the process of developing these criteria, and must remain engaged throughout the implementation and assessment stages of the standards as well.

Recently, many PTA’s across the country have struggled to correct misinformation about what Common Core actually is, as well as what the new standards’ assessments mean for students. In order to address this completely, a review of what the standards are and why they were developed is important:

 

What are the Common Core Standards?
The Common Core Standards were developed through a state-led initiative. Spearheaded by governors and school superintendents, educational leaders from various states worked in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, college faculty, parents, and education experts to develop a common set of educational standards that would standardize basic educational knowledge across the country. The standards build on the existing foundations across all states, and have been internationally benchmarked to ensure rigor on par with top-performing nations. To date, more than 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core.

The standards are not a curriculum. Decisions about curriculum, tools, materials, and textbooks are left to local districts and schools that know their students best.

 

Why were Common Core Standards developed?
The standards were designed to enhance and improve student learning by providing young people with the knowledge and skills they need for college and career success and ensuring a future U.S. workforce that can compete in a global economy.  They also seek to unify learning across the entire United States so that students in every school are gaining the same basic skills and are held to the same rigorous academic goals

 

Assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards
Teachers and principals talk a lot about assessments, which are used to measure students’ academic achievement.  Along with Common Core’s new approach to educational standards, new assessments will also be utilized to measure student achievement in a more accurate and meaningful way.  Common Core standards emphasize fewer topics and stress educational outcomes based not only rote skills, but also conceptual and critical thinking. The standards are designed to build knowledge from grade to grade, enabling students to master important concepts before moving on to others.

States are shifting away from multiple choice tests to true assessments that measure not only what a student knows but also determines if a student can actually apply their knowledge in real world settings. These innovative, summative assessments will address longstanding concerns that parents, educators, and employers have had about current state assessments – namely that they measure students’ ability to memorize facts, rather than their critical thinking and knowledge application skills.

The Common Core assessments will also enable educators to deepen their understanding of student progress from grade to grade – and just as importantly, identify any gaps in progress so they can address them well before students enter college or the workforce. During the next few years, assessments will provide results more quickly and in an increasingly readable and easy-to understand format, most likely online. Parents can use this information to better communicate with teachers and school administrators about their child’s progress, and teachers can use it to better tailor instruction to the child’s needs.  Because the standards are more rigorous, student assessment scores may initially be lower. A dip should not necessarily be interpreted as a decline in student learning or in educator performance. Educators expect the short-term decline to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with the standards and better equipped to meet the challenges they present.

 

How can PTAs help?
Local PTAs can play a key role in how the standards are put in place at the state and district levels. PTAleaders are encouraged to meet with their local and state administrators to discuss how their unit can support their district’s implementation plans.

PTA’s can also help families and communities better understand the Common Core Standards and new assessments by sharing the numerous resources developed by National PTA. National has taken the lead on creating both a general implementation guide for families (the Parents’ Guide to Student Success) as well as state-specific guides that will introduce the new assessment and accountability procedures (State Assessment Guides) as they are implemented by states. Both sets of guides are written for families to make sure they understand the opportunities for engagement in implementing the standards at a district level as well as the major improvements in the assessment process. PTAs should collaborate with local education administrators on how to share the guides with all families in their communities.

National PTA has also compiled resource listings by state that local and state PTAs can use to support their work on engaging and educating families on the Common Core Standards. Finally, a Common Core toolkit has also been developed that includes an advocacy training guide, helpful articles and issue briefs, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and an extensive FAQ section.

To access these resources or for more information, please visit www.pta.org/commoncore.


Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA. Erica Lue, National PTA Advocacy Coordinator, contributed to this post.

Thank a Teacher Contest: Express Your Gratitude during PTA Teacher Appreciation Week

Thank a teacher for their dedication to Common Core State Standards and your local PTA could win $500 to host a teacher appreciation luncheon!

ThankaTeacherContest_BLOGToday kicks off PTA Teacher Appreciation Week – a week where families and schools around the country give thanks for all that teachers do. Teachers make an indelible mark on the lives of their students – from inspiring a lifelong love of reading, to sparking a curiosity that leads to a future career path, to imparting the importance of service to one’s community.

Teachers should know that their work is valued. That is why National PTA encourages families to write to teachers and thank them for their efforts and dedication. Specifically, National PTA urges all PTA members to write a letter of thanks to math and English teachers who are in the process of implementing the new Common Core State Standards. These math and English standards are providing a consistent and clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so students are ready for college and career regardless of their zip code.

Here’s how you can participate and potentially win $500 for a teacher appreciation luncheon at your school, courtesy of the GE Foundation.

  1. Send a letter thanking a teacher for his/her work implementing Common Core State Standards.
  2. Send a copy of your letter to CCSS@pta.org.
  3. Include your contact information and the name of your local PTA.
  4. Each letter will be entered into a drawing, where ten local PTA winners will receive $500 to host a teacher appreciation lunch honoring the teacher(s) and PTA letter writer.

Be sure to read the full contest rules or download a template thank you letter before you enter for your chance to win.

For more information and resources for PTA Teacher Appreciation Week, visit PTA.org/ThankaTeacher


Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA.