Districts confirm they’re moving ahead with Common Core

Three-quarters of school districts in California report having a professional development plan to prepare teachers and administrators for the Common Core standards. And three out of four districts also said they’d have lessons in math and English on all of the Common Core standards in every grade in place a year from now.
But as of the start of this school year, only one in five districts said teams of teachers actually had done lesson planning in Common Core in every grade.
Most districts plan to explain the differences in Common Core assessments to parents and students but not to the news media or business leaders. Source: CCSESA survey of districts, 2013.These are some of the results of a survey of 809 school districts – 80 percent of the state’s districts – by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association and the Sacramento County Office of Education. The county offices surveyed districts by phone this month and last.*
With 18 months to go before the students begin taking official computer-based tests in the Common Core standards, the results show that districts overall are moving forward in a systematic fashion, although breakdowns by county, to be released later this fall, are expected to show great variations among counties and districts. All but two county offices participated in the survey.
Three-quarters of districts predict that all of their schools will be testing their students by computer. That’s a higher proportion than some experts had predicted, but also leaves uncertainty among nearly a quarter of districts. (It’s not clear if districts were assuming they could offer the test during a 12-week or only a 5-week testing window, which would make a big difference in terms of their capacity.) Only 2 percent of districts said they’d definitely be giving the math and English language arts tests by paper and pencil, an option for the first three years. (At the same time, only one-third of districts said they have updated their district technology plans to include information about the new computer-based assessments. That could indicate that some districts may not yet have figured out their gaps in technology and bandwidth at the school-site level.)
Nearly all districts reported they have a formal plan for implementing Common Core, and more than 80 percent of those contain the critical elements: development of a curriculum, professional development for staff, design of assessments used for instruction and integration of technology in instruction.
However, there are also signs for worry that districts will be fully ready by 2015:
Only a third of districts plan to purchase materials in English language arts in the next 18 months (for math, it’s closer to 60 percent). The reluctance reflects that fact that the state English language arts frameworks ­– an extensive guide to teaching the Common Core standards – won’t be approved by the State Board until next summer. That doesn’t mean that districts will be empty-handed; they can turn to other states and Internet sites for guidance and materials. But it will force them to do more cobbling together than they’d prefer.
Most districts have not yet reached out to parents, community members, the local media and local businesses to explain Common Core standards or the big shift to computer-based assessments. Nor do they plan to. That could prove problematic if, as expected, districts run into problems next spring when districts administer field or preliminary Common Core tests by computer. Those tests also won’t produce scores for schools and individual students that parents expect to receive every year. A lesson from  the Affordable Care Act is that web site glitches make headlines and give naysayers a platform.
The survey provides additional insights into district policies on Common Core:
Most of the districts plan to spread their share of the $1.25 billion in state money for Common Core fairly evenly among technology, staff training and materials. Only 10 percent of districts indicated they’d spend 75 percent or more of their money on technology, while only 7 percent said they’d spend big a portion on professional development. Only 4 percent said they’d spend all or nearly all on materials.
As this point, more districts have decided to switch to integrated Common Core math courses in high school (30 percent) than plan to continue with the traditional subject sequence of Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and Trigonometry/Pre-Calculus. However, 38 percent of districts have not made up their minds. On the much debated issue of if and when to accelerate math development to put students on the path for Calculus, the majority of districts (58 percent) either have not decided when students should skip ahead – eighth grade or high school – or if that option should be given. A quarter of districts will offer a compressed sixth and seventh grade Common Core math so that students are ready for Algebra I in 8th grade.
The county superintendents association will present the findings to the State Board of Education at its meeting on Nov. 6 and 7.
* The survey was prepared for the Consortium for the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Its members include the state State Board of Education, the state Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, California Teachers Association, Association of California School Administrators, California School Boards Association, California State PTA, Californians Together and California Charter Schools Association.
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