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Last spring, teachers and principals at 151 schools in five states were surveyed as their students prepped to take new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core Math and English Standards. Three of the states (Maryland, Massachusetts and New Mexico) administered the PARCC test and the remaining two states (Delaware and Nevada) used the Smarter Balanced consortium test.

In February, the findings of the study were released by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University with some surprising outcomes. “Teaching Higher: Educators’ Perspectives on Common Core Implementation” had four major findings:

  • Overall, teachers, principals, and Common Core tutors have welcomed the new Common Core State Standards. Of the 142 principals surveyed, 69% believe that the new standards will lead to positive effects on student learning and performance. Additionally, of the nearly 1,500 teachers involved in the survey, 73% stated that they have embraced the new standards mostly or completely.
  • In order to the meet the new standards, teachers made significant changes in their lesson plans. 85% of teachers reported increasing writing assignments in which students are required to cite evidence to support their arguments. A similar percentage also increased the amount of assigned reading of nonfiction texts. Further, four out of five mathematics teachers also reported changing more than half of their instructional materials in response to Common Core.
  • In Common Core math classrooms, the study learned that the inclusion of student outcomes in teacher evaluations were associated with much higher student performance. Additionally, more professional development days for teachers and classroom observations with explicit feedback connected to Common Core were also linked to improved student learning. The study’s authors stated: “Teachers will be more successful in implementing the standards if they are not simply left to make instructional changes on their own.”
  • In English Language Arts, the study did not find evidence for or against any specific implementation strategies. However, the new English assessments were found to be more sensitive to instructional differences between teachers, especially in middle schools. This finding seems to be due to increased emphasis on student writing on the tests, which the study suggested may encourage teachers to become more rigorous in their focus on writing assignments.

Student achievement on the new CCSS aligned assessment tests

The study linked the teachers’ responses to their students’ achievement on the tests to determine if the new efforts put forward were leading to student success. Despite the positive outlook from school staff on the new standards and major changes in classroom instruction, the study found that test scores on the Common Core-aligned tests were significantly lower than the “legacy” tests in all states involved.

The least amount of decline in students reaching proficiency was seen in Massachusetts, down 8 points in both math and English. Delaware’s student achievement rates fell by 26 points in math and 15 points in English. In New Mexico, the number of students meeting expectations was 24 points lower in math and 27 points lower in English. In Maryland, scores declined the furthest with a 41 point decrease in math and 43 points in English. Unfortunately, Nevada was excluded from the second stage of analysis due to technical difficulties with administering the tests.

There may be several explanations for the lack of achievement on the new Common Core aligned assessment tests taken by students in this study. Firstly, aside from limited pilot testing, the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments were administered for the first time in the spring of 2015 for Harvard’s survey. Additionally, one question asked of teachers in the survey showed that 42% stated their students had never used a computer or tablet for taking the PARCC or SBAC practice assessments. Both of these factors may have affected the students’ confidence or competency in answering questions using these formats.

Outside of the technical or administration errors, teachers also reported feeling only partially prepared to help students perform well on the new assessments. Nearly one quarter of teachers surveyed reported feeling only “slightly prepared” or “not at all prepared” to teach their students what they needed to know to be successful. Further, less than half of the teachers involved reported receiving feedback that was directly related to alignment with the Common Core State Standards after classroom observations.

If your child is struggling with the new standards and needs a Common Core math or Common Core English tutor, REACH Professional In-Home Tutoring has tutors standing by in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Los Angeles and Orange County. Call us today at 1-877-947-3224 to speak with an enrollment counselor.

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