“Embracing the Common Core”–Columbus Conference

Yesterday I attended “Embracing the Common Core” at the Hyatt in Columbus, and I want to try and summarize the presentations, address some issues, and pose some of my remaining questions in this post.

But first, I have to address my own personal interests.  I am incredibly interested in the common core and its updated developments.  Why?  Because as I’ve stated in various other posts, I think there are some really great things happening right now in education.  As we weed through political influences, society’s expectations, and quantifying concepts that are uniquely unquantifiable, I think we are beginning to pay attention to individual students.  The perspectives of educators is narrowing in from seeing classrooms of students as a unit to seeing classrooms of students as individuals; that, I believe, is the great shift happening right now.

So, yes, I am a supporter of what is happening, which explains my excitement about shifting pedagogies and educational paradigms.  It also explains my very serious sense of urgency about implementation and my anxiety about getting clear messages out to my readers–I want to do my part in helping you to be as informed as possible as soon as information becomes available.

Speakers at the conference yesterday included Stan Heffner, State Superintendent for Ohio’s Public Schools, Michael Cohen, from Achieve, Steve Dacking and Eric Gordon, superintendents of Reynoldsburg Schools and Cleveland Schools respectively, Debe Terhar, Ohio State Board of Education, Deb Tully, Ohio Federation of Teachers, and Melissa Cardenas, from the Ohio Board of Regents.  The following are themes from throughout the conversation:

The Importance of the Common Core to Ohio’s Students

  • Both Heffner and Cardenas pointed out 41% of Ohio’s college freshmen must take remedial coursework.
  • Heffner discussed the difference between “proficient” on Ohio Graduation Tests (which requires students to get only 33% of answers correct on the reading OGT and only 32% correct on math).  This also connected to a later discussion about how cut-scores (for proficiency) are currently defined on Ohio tests versus how they will be defined on PARCC assessments.  Currently, curriculum directors and educational leaders meet to determine cut-scores on a yearly basis by looking at the scores of Ohio’s students.  In the future, proficiency scores will be determined by synthesizing data from assessments both nationally and internationally, which allows for comparing Ohio’s students’ scores with students on a more broad scale.
  • The phrase “college and career ready” and expectations of students to meet that level of readiness was a theme of the day, as it should be given CCR standards are the driving force behind shifting to the common core.
  • In pursuit of college and career readiness, the breakdown in expected amounts of informational (70% by 12th grade) versus literary texts (30% by 12th grade) students should be reading was reiterated.

Shifting Paradigms

    • Speakers from throughout the morning addressed the changes in the way we approach teaching, which can be summarized by the quip “Teachers are not dispensers of learning; teachers need to be facilitators of learning.”  This theme included mention of the traditional versus new classroom, the sage on the stage versus guide on the side styles of teaching, new technologies, and changing expectations in teacher preparation programs, which should now be heavily-based on teaching educators to implement pedagogies appropriate for common core expectations.
    • In a sentiment echoed by nearly all speakers, Debe Terhar of the Ohio Board of Education begged attendees, “Please don’t wait to implement common core.”  Deb Tully, OFT, said she has heard teachers say they are waiting for the assessment to be developed to make changes in their classrooms.  Effectively, she said, this is exactly what we’re already doing–teaching to a test.  By waiting until the assessment is available, we are maintaining instead of moving forward.
    • Heffner said that implementing the common core now, while the Ohio Achievement Assessments and Ohio Graduation Tests are in place will not hurt students:  “If I’m asking more of students, how can I hurt them on existing tests that ask less of students.”
    • A shift that really, really concerns me as both a previous ELA teacher and a grade level team leader is the shift from non-text-dependent to text-dependent questioning.  This is to happen throughout the subject areas, and as I’ve discussed before, it is vastly different than the way we have approached reading and understanding texts in the past.  Cohen stressed the new assessments will evaluate a student’s ability to use what he or she reads, not to answer unrelated questions.  His presentation shows this shift in question:
Non-Text Dependent Questions Text Dependent Questions
Have you ever been to a funeral? What does Lincoln mean by “four score and seven years ago”? Who are “our fathers”?
Why did the North fight the South in the Civil War? Beyond what students may or may not know about the Declaration of Independence, what does Lincoln tell us in this first sentence about what happened 87 years ago? What is the impact of Lincoln referring to such a famous date?
Lincoln says that the nation is dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” Why is equality an important value to promote? How does Lincoln use the idea of “unfinished work” to assign responsibility to his listeners?

Notice the difference in the kind of questions–We,  maybe I should speak for myself only, I am guilty of primarily asking those non-text dependent questions, but the CCSS and the associated assessments will look for those text dependent ones.  I see this as being one of the big challenges in our shifting mindsets.  (Check out the continuing conversation about changes in teaching reading from 2/17)

(Update 2/21:  @edtechgirl wrote an excellent blog addressing the question of text dependent vs. non-text dependent questions.)

The PARCC Assessments

  • As I’ve posted before, the PARCC assessments are divided into four tests throughout the school year.  The first two, a diagnostic and performance task assessment, are optional and not required.  (Though, I see serious potential in using both optional assessments as part of an RtI framework!!)  The third assessment, offered 3/4 of the way through the year, and the end-of-year assessment, given at the end of May, will result in combined summative scores that will count for districts.  In the past, my complaint about PARCC was its failure to offer a computer adaptive test, the likes of which Smarter Balanced has planned to implement since the beginning, but PARCC is now moving toward a computer-adaptive test for the first diagnostic.  In terms of RtI, again, this would be a wonderful opportunity for districts who have been using various other screening tools (CBMs, MAP, STAR, etc.) in the past.

Interesting Developments for Education in Ohio

  • If you didn’t catch the Dispatch article today, Heffner mentioned the combination of both the Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents into one building.  Who would’ve thunk??
  • Heffner also said the IIS system currently under development is slated to replace EMIS, an announcement that received a round of applause from attendees.
  • Switching from OAA to PARCC assessments will save the state money, said Heffner.  He said we should see a 40% savings because we aren’t paying for people to score the assessments.  This money, he said, should be used to improve the technological capacity and infrastructure throughout the state.
  • Multiple speakers pointed out we will see our achievement scores plummet in the first year of implementing the new assessments.  When asked about getting a positive, informed message out to the public, Heffner said the Department of Education would need to take a leading role in providing districts with the communication support.

Lingering Questions and Concerns

In my readings and common core work, I keep hearing the same issues, concerns, and arguments, and I feel like these issues are constantly lingering but never addressed:

  • How does the common core handle students with disabilities?  A principal asked this very question yesterday, and received a somewhat short response from a panel member who basically said we need to hold our students to higher standards.  While this is true in our idealized “all kids can achieve” society, we need to look realistically at how to make this happen.  I think teachers are incredibly anxious about having performance evaluations based 50% on standardized achievement of students, and despite the political implications of these evaluations, the issue at the core of this concern is how do we help struggling students?  How do I get an ESL student to read a book at grade-level complexity?  How do I get a student with little to no motivation to attend school enough to reach college and career readiness?  These are real issues, and falling back on the “all kids can achieve” ideology does not provide practical guidance for teachers.
  • What will happen to school funding when scores plummet?  Though Heffner said ODE would work to start communicating an informed message to our voting public, educators and policy makers in Ohio already know how challenging the climate is in getting levies, income tax renewals, and bond issues to pass.  If anything, naysayers are looking for reasons to voice their opposition for increased taxes, and plummeting achievement scores (clearly communicated proactive message or not) will provide fuel for that fire.
  • How will cut scores on PARCC be comparable to cut scores on Smarter Balanced?  I also think this is an incredibly important issue, and one I have only heard addressed briefly in the Education Week assessment seminar in December.  I am concerned about this.  What will the ultimate approach to comparing these scores entail?  Will the logical conclusion be that one consortium will “win” and all common core states will eventually join the same assessment?  Will educators be forced to switch from one to the other?  How will this happen?
  • What do we do about our struggling students?  How do we hold them to the high expectations inherent in the core standards while having realistic expectations of their abilities?
  • How do we disseminate information and provide appropriate training that will prepare our teachers for shifting pedagogies?  While at the ETech conference, I heard many times, “Oh, this technology is great, but what do I do with it?”  A similar complaint can be made about the multitude of resources (both true to CCSS expectations as well as far removed from them!) pouring forth in support of common core implementation, which Kathleen Porter-Magee discusses here.   The work that is currently going on with the core standards is unreachable to the individual teacher, and without some serious (and timely) support in HOW to implement, policy is going to continue to outrace practitioner.

Related Links:

Videos and Presentations from the EdExcellence Conference


5 thoughts on ““Embracing the Common Core”–Columbus Conference

  1. I like what you have written, as a fellow educator equally interested in seeing where Common Core takes us. I also share many of your questions and expect I will have more to say on the subject once I attend our NC Common Core conference in a few weeks. As an Instructional facilitator, I have been training teachers with the Common Core information we already have and while I have touched on that in my own blog, I have a lot more to say about it soon. I look forward to reading more of your posts! It’d be great to compare notes on how our two states are implementing Common Core.


    • Hello and thanks for the comments. I’ll be interested in reading your review of your common core conference and seeing how different states are approaching and understanding the common core. Looking forward to networking!


  2. Pingback: “Embracing the Common Core”–Columbus Conference | Common Core Online | Scoop.it

  3. Pingback: Ohio Educational Policy and CCSS Updates « Turn On Your Brain

  4. Pingback: Following the Legislation « Turn On Your Brain

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