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. Stay tuned for part two, which focuses on implementing new English language arts standards.
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 math standards?
Moving to the common core provided the motivation for our district to look critically at our middle-school instruction. We have five elementary schools that feed into one middle school and this has often created difficulties in math. With the new rigor of the common core, we looked at how our middle-school educators were approaching teaching and were able to provide the tools and professional development to allow them to add the rigor needed to meet the new standards.
We added a new basal math program and a supplemental math resource, Ready© Common Core (New York CCLS edition), developed by Curriculum Associates that was specifically built for Common Core State Standards instruction. These tools — in addition to the professional development that focused on helping teachers understand the development of the common core and how to teach to it — has helped our students improve their conceptual understanding, math vocabulary and test-taking abilities. Our fourth- and fifth-grade students were tops in our area on the new common core test last year and a lot of our success can be attributed to the new resources we put into place last year.
Common Core State Standards for Mathematics emphasize deeper learning of specific skills. How prepared are your teachers to teach this deeper content and what resources do you have in place to support them?
Our professional development was embedded and done grade-by-grade to ensure all teachers were prepared for this new instruction. In addition, our PD consultants worked with the teachers to create test questions that could be used throughout the year to determine where students were in their understanding of common core content, and we used Ready© books to help individualize instruction for students on the subject matter.
We also did a mid-point test with an online adaptive assessment tool to determine how easy or difficult it would be to move to assessing using this format. What we found was that our technology infrastructure needed upgrading in order to accommodate online testing for the common core.
We additionally worked hard to get parents up to speed on the common core so that they could support their children with this deeper rigor. We held a number of PTO meetings to introduce the common core and to answer questions parents had. We also sent a form home with students to let parents know about the changes to instruction that were taking place and the new testing procedures.
We lastly held a technology forum for teachers to understand how to better use technology to support common core instruction.
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?
Our district has really embraced the new standards. We have focused on what we can do to ensure that teachers are supported and students get the added support they need. Our superintendent is very focused on being the best district in our area, and she spent many days meeting with parents and the community to help get a bond passed, in part, to improve the technology infrastructure in order to accommodate online testing and continue to support teachers.
We are always looking at data and using it to drive our improvement. We use data with principals, and principals use it with our teachers. We feel that improvement is a continuous process and, while we scored well in math last year, we are continuing to use data to do even better. Our new teacher evaluations will be tied to the common core and our principals are going into classrooms and looking for examples of teaching based on what our teachers learned last year about the common core. The great thing is we know the resources we supplied last year are having an impact. Our teachers used the Ready© books diligently to help students and it worked so well they wanted them back this year.