Common Core

5 Tech Tools That Support Common Core State Standards

With online testing underway in many states, we look at the hardware and software that districts are using to teach to the new standards.

According to the 4th Annual Principals' Assessment of Public Education, 95.7 percent of schools in states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have implemented or are in the process of implementing the standards. Many of those schools are also getting ready to administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments for the first time. To get a sense of what is working in districts around the country, we asked educators to share the technology tools that they are using to help implement CCSS and prepare students for the upcoming assessments.

Preparing Special Ed Students for CCSS
The Common Core standards emphasize an inquiry-based approach to learning, encouraging students to ask questions and persevere through challenges. According to Christine Fax-Huckaby, a special education academic support teacher in Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) n Chula Vista, CA, that inquiry-based approach can be difficult for special education teachers because "we don't want our kids to struggle. We don't want to lose them."

In an effort to help special education students in SUHSD succeed, the district has deployed a tool called Learning Upgrade, an online math and English language arts curriculum that uses songs, video and games to engage students. According to Fax-Huckaby, Learning Upgrade uses an inquiry-based approach to provide differentiated instruction to help special education students fill in gaps in their learning. 

Fax-Huckaby focuses on universal design for learning in her training for special and general educators. UDL suggests that teachers provide multiple means of representation, expression and engagement to facilitate learning, "and I think so many of those things involve technology and inquiry," she said. According to Fax-Huckaby, Learning Upgrade uses the technology that kids love to motivate them. It lets them continue working on a concept until they've mastered it, and she said the district's assessment data shows that special education students are doing better as a result.

Addressing Close Reading
The Common Core requires students to read deeply and extract meaning from complex texts in subjects such as science and social studies. To support close reading skills, teachers at C.T. Sewell Elementary School in Henderson, NV, are using myON and Accelerated Reader

MyON is an interactive, digital library of more than 4,000 books for K-12 that integrates with Accelerated Reader, an online assessment tool for reading comprehension. Holli Ratliff, principal of C.T. Sewell Elementary, said, “Students can read the books on myON, and then can link directly to Accelerated Reader to take their comprehension quiz to measure their understanding of what they just read." 

The school chose myON because it has such a large collection of nonfiction books to support close reading across subject areas. Elizabeth Stuflick, an instructional coach at the school, said teachers select texts that are about one grade level above the class they are teaching. The texts are also related to science or social studies units, so students are deepening their knowledge in those subject areas.

In the primary grades, students can wear headphones and listen to the stories read aloud, and they can then be assessed on their listening comprehension. "They're hearing good reading modeled for them, and then we're building that print-to-speech connection," said Ratliff. For older students, the teachers turn the sound off, so the students are assessed on their actual reading comprehension.

Managing Small Group Instruction
The Common Core standards expect students to demonstrate effective speaking and listening skills in 1-on-1, small-group and whole-class discussions. Ashleigh Schulz, a gifted teacher at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, LA, uses an audio system called Flexcat to monitor and support students during group work. 

Schulz describes Flexcat as a management and monitoring system for group instruction. The system supports up to six communication "pods." Each group of students has its own pod. Wearing a microphone, earpiece and remote control, Schulz can move freely around the classroom to monitor the groups. 

"When my students are outside of the classroom, I can communicate with them, and it's two-way communication," said Schulz. "If they're in the classroom, under the tables or outside in the hallway working — even across the hall in another classroom — they can take these mobile pods and I can hear everything that's going on. I can allow them to know that I'm there by jumping in to their conversation, or I can just sit back and listen. It gives me such insight into their learning, and helps me as a teacher know where to go next."

Schulz has found that the system helps keeps students on task when working in small groups because they know she may be listening in at any time. "It's really awesome to hear and just step back and listen to the way that their brains work, because in the past, as I would walk up to a group, they would shut down," said Schulz. "And that doesn't happen now."

Using Embedded Assessments to Support CCSS Mastery
Phoenixville Area School District (PA) is using a tool called Defined STEM, which embeds assessments within the curriculum and asks students to complete multi-disciplinary projects to demonstrate mastery of standards. Preston McKnight, K-12 supervisor of curriculum for the district, said, “The beautiful thing about Defined STEM is that it's aligned to national standards on multiple levels. The language arts and science pieces are all in play.”

Defined STEM projects include, for example, designing a backpack or manufacturing sunglasses. The backpack project guides students through a series of activities that span multiple lessons, from understanding the elements of design and the necessary math calculations, to drawing their own backpack design, to actually creating the backpack. “That's the assessment — the backpack is done,” said McKnight. The sunglasses manufacturing project requires launching a PR campaign to market the product, so the students can practice and get assessed on standards across disciplines.

The tool also offers multiple paths through the projects, so each project can be customized so that students with learning challenges through to more advanced learners can all complete the project. The different levels built into each project are all aligned with Common Core standards. 

Conducting Formative Assessments
To monitor student progress and adjust lesson plans accordingly, Clear Lake Middle School (IA) is using three formative assessment tools: Skills Iowa, My Access and Naiku. Educators use Skills Iowa to assess math and reading, My Access to assess writing and Naiku for multiple subject areas.

In Naiku, each question can be linked to a specific standard to help teachers assess student progress. The tool integrates with the school's Infinite Campus learning management system, so when a teacher gives an assessment in Naiku, the students' scores are logged in the LMS’s gradebook.

According to Steve Kwikkel, principal at Clear Lake, some of the teachers use Naiku's "exit tag" feature almost daily. An exit tag is a quick check for understanding at the end of a lesson to see if the students met the learning target for that day. “It gives teachers real data right now," he said, so they can use that information to develop and refine their lesson plans.

Using the data from Skills Iowa, My Access and Naiku to assess student progress and develop quality lessons and units linked to the Common Core makes it unnecessary to teach to the CCSS tests, Kwikkel concluded. “You really don't have to tell the kid, ‘This is the Common Core standard that we're working on,’ because they're operating from that already.”