Why Are We Still Focusing on Standards?
By Linda Diamond, founder and former president, CORE & Dale Webster, Chief Academic Officer, CORE
As many of our readers know, CORE has never wavered from its stance that teachers should be knowledgeable about ELA and/or math pedagogy and equally important, teachers deserve support to implement an evidence-based, standards-aligned curriculum for ELA and math. A renewed focus among educators on implementing a curriculum is a shift from the past several years where many school districts provided teachers with internally-created and loosely-designed units of study. This shift from units of study to adopting standards-aligned materials has been occurring more and more in school districts across the country and is supported by organizations such as the Gates Foundation.
However, there continues to exist confusion about the difference between standards and a curriculum. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in California. In 2010 CA adopted its version of the Common Core State Standards. Then in 2013 and 2014 CA adopted new math and English Language Arts/ English Language development frameworks. The frameworks moved the standards from a series of outcomes to detailed explanations of WHAT should be taught and HOW it should be taught so that students meet the standards. The first confusion is that standards are what a teacher teaches. Standards are results. They are NOT what the teacher teaches, but should be the result of robust instruction. But CA did not stop with the frameworks. In 2014 and 2015 CA adopted new instructional materials that to be approved had to meet rigorous criteria. These materials had to not only be aligned to the standards but had to be designed to meet all the requirements in the frameworks including a remarkable and important description of how the curricula had to be designed to foster equity for all students, especially English learners, and students who speak African American English as well as students with disabilities and advanced learners.
Given that districts are now letting go of their created units and are implementing standards-aligned curricula, we wonder why districts are still having PLC sessions to “unpack the standards” or why schools may use generic observation coaching checklists that check off whether a standard was observed. Again a standard is NOT instruction; it is the result of instruction.
Rather than continuing to analyze 10-year old standards the focus should be on the implementation of the standards-aligned curriculum and on continually improving the teaching of that curriculum. Focusing backwards on standards is a waste of precious time that could be focused more productively on helping teachers skillfully use their standards-aligned curricula, learn important pedagogical practices, receive support to work with students who need added instruction and intervention, and learn ways to fill gaps in their adopted curricula. Furthermore, time can be spent helping teachers understand the underlying research base behind the content and the practices baked into vetted standards-aligned curricula, learning culturally and linguistically responsive practices that will support diverse learners, and identifying ways to avoid bias in order to ensure equitable learning.
All of this leads to the question of how can we make PLCs and educator collaboration time most productive? First, spend time doing lesson study. Teachers can work together to refine their lessons, gain valuable insight and support from colleagues, and practice critical curriculum routines together. Lesson study is a common practice in many countries and is gaining increased attention in the United States. Second, during PLCs teachers can study their data together and use the information gained to reflect back to their curriculum to identify areas that may require added practice or to identify gaps in the curriculum. Third, during collaboration time, teachers can work together to examine their unconscious or conscious biases that may interfere with student learning. Teachers can also use their PLC time to read research and reflect together on what that tells them regarding their materials and instruction, and finally teachers can use their PLC time to identify students who would benefit from tiered interventions.
It is time for schools to stop looking at standards and instead focus on helping teachers skillfully teach all students with vetted standards-aligned materials.