Instructional Supports Key to Lifting Standards

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With college- and career-ready standards on the way in most states, some states and school districts are gearing up by giving teachers a coherent set of resources to support high-quality lessons. Others have furnished little more than vague pacing guides. Still others have taken no steps at all. Now, a paper from The Education Trust, “Instructional Supports: The Missing Piece in State Education Standards,” lays out what it will take to translate the new standards into the kind of teaching that equips students well for higher education and the workforce.

Advocates for stronger schools have long realized that lifting student achievement requires raising expectations. Forty-five states are putting this belief into action by adopting Common Core standards for mathematics and language arts. Standards that cover each grade level, if properly implemented, could pave the way for college and career readiness by the end of high school for millions of American students.

But the standards alone are no guarantee of student success; that requires teachers who are able to teach their students to higher standards. And in the past, many states and districts have not offered teachers the kind of supports and training they would need in order to translate standards into practice. According to a new report from REL Northeast, only 65 percent of first-year teachers between 2004 and 2008 felt well-prepared to adapt curricular and instructional materials to the needs of their classrooms, meaning they felt less prepared for this aspect of the job than most other aspects of teaching, including explaining subject matter, assessing students, and using diverse instructional methods. Yet, this percentage varied by state, suggesting that some states and districts might be better at preparing teachers than others. In Rhode Island, for example, 83 percent of new teachers felt prepared to adapt curricular materials.

Twice in the recent past — under No Child Left Behind and its predecessor, the Improving America’s Schools Act — states were asked to center instruction on a set of learning standards. While states created the standards, they left the task of figuring out how to meet those standards up to school districts and schools. These efforts yielded mixed results that generally fell short of student needs.

This time around, states must recognize that developing the kinds of instructional supports teachers want and need is more work than most districts, and most teachers, have the capacity to undertake individually. States must step up and ensure that all teachers have access to the resources and materials they need.

The Ed Trust’s new paper offers insights about the best ways states can support our nation’s educators as they work to help students meet higher academic standards. The report should also inform the decisions of education policymakers, as they aim to use the new standards to lift achievement and ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

— Paula Amann and Marni Bromberg