Professional development is key to implementing tougher new standards this fall, faculty say

by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - An Evaluation Committee with several teachers informed the selection of Common Core textbooks.Lake Oswego schools will implement rigorous new expectations for reading, math, writing and analysis this fall, but some local teachers say they aren’t sure the district’s curriculum aligns with Common Core State Standards yet and most say they aren’t being given enough time to prepare.

“You can’t just give teachers materials and say ‘follow the directions’ and have your children prepared,” says Hallinan Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Christie Ford. “We have a lot of dedicated teachers who do a lot of reading and are really skilled and passionate about what they’ve been doing. Our students get a tremendous amount. But we’ve really been operating without a lot of instructional support.”

Lake Oswego School Board members meet today to determine the priorities for 2014-15, and their lengthy list of discussion items includes Common Core and professional development for teachers.

Board member John Wendland says it’s important to understand that school districts have no choice but to comply with state mandates such as Common Core and its accompanying test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“That being said, we will be doing everything we can at a local level to support our teachers and administrators as we transition into Common Core and SBA,” Wendland says. “This is a major change in education, and it will raise the bar for our students and teachers. As with past changes and challenges, we will prepare, get our testing results and adapt for continuous improvement. We have exceptional teachers, and as a district we will figure out the best course of action.”

Common Core State Standards put a greater emphasis on literacy in all subjects and focus more on informational, nonfiction text. Oregon adopted the standards in 2010, joining 44 other states across the country.

Lake Oswego teachers already have been training and adapting curriculum for the incoming standardized exams, which involve more critical thinking than current tests. The Smarter Balanced Assessment in English/language arts and math begins next spring. Common Core standards apply to all grades, although SBA testing doesn’t start until the third grade.

Is LOSD ready for SBA? Laura Paxson Kluthe, LOSD teachers union president, says most teachers support Common Core concepts, many of which already are in place, but “the Smarter Balanced tests are being rolled out too soon.”

More than half of the district’s teachers recently participated in a statewide survey about Common Core by the New Teacher Center, an organization that administers surveys to inform policies for schools throughout the nation. Opinions varied widely from one school to another.

When the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Survey asked teachers at five district schools whether “the curriculum taught in this school is aligned with Common Core Standards,” 88.6 percent at LOHS said yes, as did 83.3 percent at Lakeridge High, 88 percent at Lakeridge Junior High, 52.9 percent at Lake Grove and 33.3 percent at River Grove.

But the survey also asked whether “an appropriate amount of time is provided for professional development,” and fewer teachers agreed. At LOHS, only 47.1 percent of teachers said yes, 35.3 percent at Lakeridge High, 34.5 percent at Lakeridge Junior High, 22.2 percent at Lake Grove and 26.7 percent at River Grove.

That discrepancy between having the right curriculum in place and giving teachers enough time to learn how to use it is what worries teachers like Ford. What’s crucial, she says, is not just showing teachers the curriculum, but also guiding them with the best instructional practices so that they can understand how to best teach the concepts.

“We really need to focus on professional development for our teachers,” Ford says.

Must support teachers

LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck says LOSD must support teachers, potentially having teachers who feel confident in Common Core State Standards mentor their peers. She says she will continue to reach out to teachers, students and parents to find out what the problems are and how to address them.

LOSD board member Bob Barman agrees. “Every single board member, we have our ears to the ground and are constantly listening to our community’s, teachers’ and administrators’ opinions,” he says.

Board member Sarah Howell says the board is doing what it can and on April 21 “received feedback surveys from teachers contemplating how we can better support them in preparing for Common Core.”

Finding time to provide that support may prove difficult.

High schools in Oregon previously needed to annually provide either 130 instructional hours per class or at least 990 total hours of classroom time. But parents in the Portland Public School District complained to the state about a lack of seat time, and this year, schools will be required to meet both standards. LOSD exceeds the 990-hour requirement but is short of the 130-hours-per-class standard by two and a half hours.

The Oregon State Board of Education recently gave LOSD a one-year waiver on the rule, so it could rejigger high school schedules. That must be done, of course, while still offering teachers enough professional development time to deepen their knowledge of Common Core.

On the national level, concerns also have been raised about the quality of materials available for teaching Common Core concepts. On June 3, NPR reported that the curriculum and materials needed to teach Common Core aren’t ready, and that some publishers have simply added Common Core stickers without updating their textbooks. A Feb. 24 article in The Washington Post said textbooks are not adapting well to standards and appear quite similar to previous versions.

“Everyone agrees the standards are good and should be implemented, and they will raise the standard for reading and math. But the reality is, based on that NPR program, the required curriculum which would be helpful for students to meet the standards is not available or has not been written yet,” says Tanveer Bokhari, an LOHS School Advisory Committee member.

Beck says more textbooks now are aligned with Common Core than when it first was implemented a few years ago, and that textbooks are not the curriculum.

“We do not teach textbooks,” Beck says. “We teach standards. The textbook is only a resource for teaching a standard. It’s not uncommon at all for teachers to find other materials to supplant and supplement the information in a textbook.”

The reality, Beck says, is that reading, writing, fractions and many other lessons don’t really change that much.

“It’s not like Common Core State Standards are so incredibly different from anything that we used to teach,” she says. “If you think about reading and writing, it’s not like there’s this whole set of standards that we didn’t teach, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s teach some standards.’”

Common Core textbooks are thoroughly vetted, LOSD Director of Elementary Education Jonnie Shobaki says. An Evaluation Committee with teacher representatives from every grade level informed recent Common Core textbook selections.

“I am not sure there has ever been a ‘total’ alignment of texts to every standard out there,” Shobaki says. “We have had standards for a very long time in Oregon, so this is not something new.”

Despite the questions hanging over implementation of Common Core, Pacer Parent Club Co-president Katie Levin says she trusts administrators and educators will make sure kids adjust to the curriculum.

“Whatever new is coming with Common Core, I know they’ll take it seriously,” Levin says, “because they know most of the parents here in the school district want their kids to go on to college and want them to be successful.”

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