States Race to Prep Teachers for Common Core

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With expectations high for what the Common Core State Standards will do to improve student outcomes, some states are moving quickly to equip teachers to meet the higher standards for math and English-language arts. Tennessee is one such state, and has recently launched its largest ever teacher training program, designed to reach more than 13,000 third- through eighth-grade math teachers and  revolutionize the way Tennessee’s students learn math.

In two years, Tennessee will replace its TCAP (the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) exam with PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career), which portends higher performance standards for students and teachers. Tennessee’s current system does not produce many students who could meet the new measures of college and career readiness, the state performs below 44 states in eighth-grade math proficiency, and revised math instruction aligned to the new standards is designed to impart the math-reasoning skills students will use in work and in life.

The new teacher training is premised on the need for sophisticated content knowledge to help students grasp math at a deeper level. Focusing on the process of problem solving will develop critical-thinking skills instead of memorization. The PARCC math assessments promise to be a big improvement over the current assessment. Featuring fewer multiple choice questions, the new assessments will have more word problems that demand explanations demonstrating student mastery of underlying concepts. The three-week training sessions will be replicated next year for instructors of English-language arts.

Tennessee is not the only jurisdiction initiating teacher training on Common Core. This past June, the California Office to Reform Education assembled teachers and administrators from its eight member school districts, divided by grade and subject, over two-and-a-half days to study then formulate their own “performance assessment tasks.” CORE’s Summer Design Institute assignments called on teachers’ creativity and skill as teams crafted word problems to measure student knowledge on equivalent fractions, for example. Designing the assessments gauges teacher knowledge, sparks the notion that students need to be task oriented in order to problem solve, and encourages teachers to adjust learning to meet student needs that performance assessments reveal. Performance assessments created at the Summer Institute will debut in classrooms this fall, while California’s new math curriculum will premiere in November 2013.

Collaboration among districts is a small-scale version of CORE’s vision to tap, through partnerships, the expertise of other states that are further along with their Common Core preparation. Such partnerships enable jurisdictions to share resources, ameliorating some of the budgetary constraints that might otherwise impede the effective preparation of teachers for the new standards. CORE plans to make a collective library of performance assessments available online.

Ultimately, it will be up to school leaders to transform the way teachers teach. An atmosphere of collegial collaboration, coupled with professional evaluation and feedback, will help teachers develop the skill and mindset to teach all kids to a new standard.

Anneliese M. Bruner