by Reino Makkonen and Robert Sheffield

It has been a lot of fun this month traveling California to talk about what WestEd is learning from educators about the ongoing implementation of the state’s college- and career-ready standards in English language arts and math.

Our team presented at the California Educational Research Association conference in Anaheim on November 30, at the Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC) of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) on November 17, and at the California State Board on November 8, and our message has been the same all month… California is very different today than during the rollout of the state’s previous academic standards 20 years ago.

Today’s California teachers report engaging in more site-based professional learning and collaboration than in prior years — more often observing their peers or meeting with them to discuss state standards and instruction, to develop materials or lesson plans, or to review student assessment data. Many California schools and districts are also working to implement instructional rounds or walkthroughs, as well as to refocus professional learning communities on more rigorous inquiry around lesson study or the analysis of student work. “Many teachers feel that this standards implementation returns them to the type of instructional practices that represent the instruction they want to deliver,” explained California State Board member Patricia Ann Rucker during our November 8 presentation. “This is one of those times when the glass is definitely half full.”

In addition, some of the results we’ve seen in WestEd’s Measure to Learn and Improve initiative — a multi-year Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project examining standards implementation across more than a dozen states — have indicated that, more so than in some other states, California teachers are involved in key decisions at their sites (see figure), particularly decisions related to determining the instructional materials used in classrooms, measuring student progress, and setting standards for student behavior. This is a positive step, as recent research has identified a positive correlation between teacher leadership and student achievement.

Figure. Teachers’ perceived influence over specific school policies (percent reporting
some influence or a great deal of influence on the policy)

We are also seeing new local approaches to instructional materials. In math, California districts are establishing formal structures to gather and act on teacher input regarding materials and are engaging in more curriculum sequencing/pacing around the California Curriculum Frameworks and/or the Smarter Balanced Interim Assessments. And teachers continue to go online to supplement the adopted curriculum, seeking rigorous, standards-aligned materials that engage their students and enable more differentiated instruction in the classroom.

Notably, all of this work to implement the state’s academic standards in classrooms is happening at the same time as the state is implementing new systems for local finance and accountability. So there is a lot going on, and California’s county, district and school leaders are working hard to create space for the adults in their systems to learn and adapt within this dynamic environment. The implementation of the academic standards is one of the state’s key priorities (Priority 2) tracked as a local indicator moving forward in California, and this empowers local leaders to create new ways to learn how their educators are advancing standards-driven teaching and learning. Whether it’s through more walkthroughs, stronger peer observation and collaboration, the efficient gathering of feedback from students and staff, or other measures, the opportunity for educator-driven data collection and knowledge sharing is here.

“In some ways it’s a new dawn and a new way of thinking,” Dr. Karen Valdes explained at our November 8 State Board presentation. “Because teachers have connected themselves and they’re in communities of learners that they’ve formed themselves.”

As networks of educators continue to develop and expand across California — constructing new knowledge about how to solve their local problems of practice — there is a growing need to spread and share that knowledge. WestEd is excited to take part!

What is Our Team Doing Next in 2018

  • Organizing an online working group of geographically diverse California county officials to promote better local data tools, collection, and analysis to track standards implementation and promote more data-driven decision making.
  • Learning from the CDE, CCSESA, SBE Math and Science Communities of Practices and sharing that learning with others throughout the state.
  • Continuing to convene the California Standards Technical Assistance Network (CalSTAN) — comprised of 13 California nonprofits, higher education institutions, and county offices of education — to advance implementation of the state’s ELA/ELD framework and professional learning standards, and using WestEd’s new implementation matrix to help focus collaborative conversations in California’s schools and districts.
  • More presentations to policy groups to share educator feedback across California.