The Center’s CA Insights – 2017-18:
Implementation Is Iterative

Our chief takeaways from three years of research: Implementation isn’t simple or linear. Implementation is iterative, recursive, and never-ending.

The reality that implementation is iterative calls for a more nuanced and appreciative view of the complexity of implementation; an acknowledgment that the adult learning process will continue to unfold in the years ahead; and a willingness to let go of short-term expectations, instead allowing schools and districts the time to build and iterate upon the real progress they have already made.

Lesson 1: 

Standards implementation does not resemble the idealized progression it is often expected to be. Our implementation strategy, as a state, should reflect this reality.

District leaders, principals, and teacher leaders consistently tell us that standards implementation is an ongoing process that takes time to get right. New learnings about what strategies help facilitate progress—in the classroom and the district office alike—are not acquired linearly, but rather assimilated in an iterative fashion.

Lesson 2: 

Schools are working to implement the standards—and making progress—within their own special circumstances and their own resource constraints. Many leaders are quick to point to local challenges, but the timing and availability of the supports provided to them have not always helped their cause.

“We were able to get teachers to county training much earlier, so we didn’t feel like we were a step behind all the time. We feel more like we’re a step ahead now. Language arts and math kind of came all at once. Trying to learn too much at one time shut some teachers down, whereas with science now they’re comfortable with language arts and they’re comfortable with math.”

– District Leader

“The [math] practice standards lend [themselves] to a whole new challenge for math that had not been explored. We’re told that we’re going to teach perseverance, which is not only an instructional shift but a different way of teaching mathematics. I’m not so sure that we were prepared for the additional [pedagogical] standard shifts… On top of that now, [the state says] I’m going to ask you for technology, because the actual assessment itself is a test that’s computerized. All these shifts I think were unfair and unreasonable for the amount of time that we had to do it.”

– Principal

“Science is going to be so unique. The secondary people are dying to have it. They’re already trying to teach it even without textbooks. The elementary people don’t even want to think about it, because they’re overwhelmed already with, in the last four years they’ve had two different major textbook adoptions and major curriculum changes.”

– District Leader

Lesson 3: 

Not every district is where it would like to be in the implementation process, considering the piecemeal nature of implementation rollout so far. Still, many have faith that progress will continue if they stay the course.

“We are learning to provide a rigorous instructional program that really ‘stretches’ students in order to increase their ability to think critically, create, collaborate, and communicate their ideas, both orally and in writing. This requires a true focus on application of learning rather than simply practicing learned skills.”

– District Leader

“I think when we first moved to California State Standards, we shifted ELA and math very quickly and then had to backtrack and re-evaluate and re-plan our implementation. We’ve now learned that it’s better to take it slow and make sure that it’s done right the first time so that we don’t get that pushback as much from our teachers.”

– District Leader

“Even though it’s been going on since 2011, because the standards were adopted in 2011, the framework has come out after, the materials come out after [that], [then] investment comes out way after, but you don’t get to build a full picture of that until six, seven years down the line.
We ask people to go through this change and just trust us through it.”

– District Leader

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