Baltimore Schools Assess their Readiness for the Common Core

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In anticipation of next year’s rollout of the Common Core standards, The Baltimore City Public School System conducted effectiveness reviews of 25 of its schools. Using measures that probe deeper than simply rating student proficiency in math and reading, this first round of reviews uncovered deficiencies in the depth of instruction students receive, as well as other systemic weaknesses needing improvement. The district plans to use this information to inform its efforts to gear up for the Common Core.

Under the new standards, Baltimore students will need to acquire greater mastery of reading, writing, and mathematics, and teachers will be required to successfully convey rigorous lessons on par with those delivered by their high-performing counterparts in the international arena.

A team from education consulting firm School Works (based in Massachusetts) performed the instructional reviews (they also reviewed personnel, community engagement, and leadership) in spring 2011. Key elements of the reviews included: planning and delivery of highly effective instruction; changing practices in response to student data; and creating a classroom environment that facilitates high-quality instruction. None of the assessed schools was found to be “highly effective,” and 40 percent received a “not effective” rating. Even some schools that had consistently posted good results on standardized tests were rated “emerging” on teacher delivery of highly effective instruction. Only two schools in this initial group of 25 were deemed “effective” in instruction.

Another round of reviews was performed this spring, and eventually all schools in the district will undergo the rigorous, three-day process. Since decisions on school closures, internal overhauls, and charter renewals will be driven by the results, district principals will be able to use these measures as guideposts as they prepare to become teachers of teachers under the new standards.

Baltimore’s effort to accurately gauge its level of preparedness is a positive example for other districts and states that are adapting to the Common Core. Districts that undergo such analysis will know their weak spots in advance, enabling them to better target their improvement efforts and positioning them to more effectively benefit from the Common Core.

—Anneliese M. Bruner