Common Core | Feature

3 Keys to Aligning Common Core and Teacher Evaluations

Before the Common Core dominated headlines in education debates, many states and districts were at work crafting new frameworks (or adopting existing ones) to overhaul instruction and teacher evaluation. As one state after another adopted the Common Core standards, a second, parallel track of reforms took shape in school districts across the country.

While schools need both effective evaluation systems and rigorous learning standards, the disparate timing and development of the two reforms has resulted in a significant misalignment. Educators on the ground are doing their best to incorporate new protocols and sets of expectations into daily practice — all while being asked to add the Core’s directives to the mix.

Unfortunately, the directives they are expected to incorporate do not quite fit into the instructional frameworks used to evaluate their work. Not only has this caused a nationwide headache in public education, but the two-track problem, if not fixed, could jeopardize the effectiveness of both reforms.

While there may not be a simple cure for the challenges caused by the two parallel tracks, there is a way to alleviate them and to give educators the tools they need to be successful. Here are three key lessons we’ve learned based on our work with districts and states that are successfully addressing the challenge.

1) When designing and implementing teacher effectiveness and Common Core initiatives, think about them as a single body of work.

At the end of the day, all of this work is about ensuring that teachers are teaching the content and skills students need, and that leaders have the tools necessary to assess teacher practice and provide targeted support. Therefore, students and educators will benefit from a planning process in which leaders approach initiatives in concert with one another. Leaders who are responsible for implementing the Core and teacher evaluation systems in your district should be working together on both design and implementation. Bringing the demands of the standards into instructional frameworks and rubrics will both reinforce what you expect of teachers and ensure that you can assess instructional practice relative to these expectations.

In Syracuse City School District, for example, leaders combined the two reforms by starting with a conversation about the purpose and end goals the entire body of work had to accomplish. Using what they knew about the Common Core and other evaluation systems, Syracuse leaders built an instructional framework to reflect both the Core and their own priorities as a district.

2) Think about everything from the perspective of the teacher.  

Planning for implementation across many schools generally takes place outside of the classroom, so it is easy to forget the weight of expectations placed on teachers.

New evaluation systems have given teachers a considerable amount of anxiety. After all, we are now evaluating teachers with more rigorous tools and much greater frequency. Couple this with the introduction of new standards, and it becomes clear that the job of the teacher is evolving — quickly. And nothing is more frustrating than being evaluated against one set of expectations (an instructional framework/rubric) while also being told to implement the Common Core, which may or may not be part of the evaluation rubric.

When expectations, resources and professional development are not aligned, it is frustrating for teachers, and ultimately can result in loss of confidence among teachers. In fact, new systems will quickly feel like just “one more thing” for teachers to do. Or worse yet, teachers will default to the old adage, “This too shall pass.”

Shelby County Schools (TN) engaged teachers in the design process for both the evaluation system and Common Core implementation. After careful engagement with multiple stakeholders, including teachers, the district has revised its instructional model to bring it into closer alignment with the Common Core. In order to accomplish this, district leaders strategically added to their framework language and ideas specific to the Core, and they eliminated content that was redundant or did not lead to high-impact instructional feedback.

Teachers provided valuable insight into how the reforms were being perceived by the teaching force. These teachers were able to support the development of the framework and its key messages, help design the professional development process and even play a role in facilitating the rollout.

3) Be deliberate in the role of the school leader, and then provide the support necessary to be successful.

Although teachers are ultimately responsible for implementation, school leaders are the link between the policy and practice. And school leaders are generally the ones we expect to provide direct support to the teachers in their schools.

Deeply engaging with multiple districts has reinforced our belief that the intensive support of school leaders is critical to the success of both teacher evaluation and the Common Core. Engaging school leaders in both understanding the content and the implementation process will enable them to understand their role and seek out support as needed. School leaders should also have a deep understanding of the district’s plans for implementation so that they can effectively communicate them to their teachers.

Baltimore City Public Schools, for example, has centered the rollout of these initiatives on the school leader as the primary person responsible at the school site. Each month principals watch video lessons, do site visits to observe teachers in practice and practice feedback conversations with their colleagues. Principals bring real life “problems of practice” to monthly PD sessions in order to get feedback on the best way to overcome specific challenges. In the end, the goal is to demonstrate a commitment to growth that principals can then use to support the teachers in their schools.

A Final Word

Resist the temptation to simply tinker with an existing instructional framework (inserting Common Core language), even if such an approach makes it easier to check off what is important to interest groups or to you. 

When working with multiple groups, politics and optics can get the best of us in the attempt to check off all the right boxes, such as designing and implementing higher standards or assessing teachers fairly while holding them accountable.

We know this has happened when we see educators jumping through hoops that make the boxes happy but do not make practical sense for students. We urge leaders to revisit this issue again and again in their efforts to set districts on the right academic trajectory.

The bottom line is that the field has a lot of work to do, but we know from emerging solutions that there is relief from the Common Core/Instructional Framework alignment headaches you feel now. We also know that when implemented well, teacher effectiveness and Common Core initiatives have the potential to significantly improve both the support teachers receive and the quality of educational opportunities for the students we serve.

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