In this Q-and-A, Ralph Lyons, interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the East Greenbush Central School District in New York, discusses how his district is implementing the Common Core State Standards. This feature is part of a two-part series. Read part one.
Common Core State Standards have brought many changes in education that will affect educators and students nationwide. Since the common core is being both taught and tested on this year, what curriculum and instructional changes is your district making to help ensure success on the new common core English language arts standards?
The new requirements of the common core in English language arts were especially worrisome for us in the areas of fluency and vocabulary. Our teachers needed to understand a new way to teach for the common core and how to rethink the questions that they create for formative assessments.
Last year, our first year of implementing our state’s common core test, we brought in professional development trainers for our middle school teachers. The trainers spent two to three months working to help teachers understand the common core and the changes on the new tests. We also provided a summer curriculum writing course for all our teachers, which helped them develop questioning techniques.
We also implemented Curriculum Associates’ Ready© Common Core (New York CCLS edition), which provides practice on fluency and vocabulary, and provided a good indicator on how successful our students would be on the test. In addition, we implemented the modules found on the State Department of Education’s (DOE) EngageNY website. This support from the DOE has been valuable as we implement the common core.
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are more rigorous with an emphasis on authentic, complex text and close reading of text, as a couple of examples. How prepared are your teachers and what resources do you have in place to support them? What criteria did you use in selecting these resources?
Teaching in the age of the common core is a pedagogical change. Teachers have to move from a stand-and-deliver model to one of facilitator, where engagement, critical thinking and questioning are key to student success. It will take teachers a while to be completely prepared, but with appropriate professional development and resources aligned to the common core, we are helping this process move faster. Teaching for the common core is more prescriptive than what teachers have seen in the past and students may not be ready to move to more abstract learning in the middle grades; so teachers have to help them through this process.
Right now, as part of this overall process, we are heavily focused on complex texts and close reading skills. And, as part of this focus, we are embedding a trainer from our basal reading program in each of our five elementary schools.
For all of the support and supplemental materials we chose, we had committees review three to four products and then had them choose those programs that most aligned to the common core. We also piloted our basal program to ensure that it met our requirements.
In many districts, educator and principal evaluations will be tied to the more rigorous assessments of the common core. How is your district using or planning on using the data from these assessments in evaluations and to improve teacher practice, as it relates to English language arts?
As a district, we are very data driven. We are part of a suburban council and our superintendent strives to be the best school in that council, and ultimately in the state. We look at data across schools in the council, as well as internally district- and building-wide, to help drive our improvement.
Last year, our district was seventh out of these 85 schools, so we will keep our focus on continually improving, in both English language arts and in other subject matters, in order to reach our superintendent’s goal.