By Dr. Penelope L. Lisi and Dr. Catherine Kurkjian
Central Connecticut State University
Historically, the teaching of reading has been one of the most critical, and perhaps challenging responsibilities of educators in schools around the world. In the U.S., 30% of all students are not graduating from high school, and 75% of all students with literacy problems in the third grade will still experience literacy difficulties in the ninth grade. One response to the challenges of developing literacy in U.S. schools has been the creation of standards or expectations of what students will know and be able to do. For many years, individual states have been responsible for the development of standards in a variety of content areas. Districts and schools have been expected to support educators in developing an awareness of state standards, who then work to align and implement the standards in curriculum and instruction. Implementation has been uneven and consequently, literacy levels have continued to remain, for the most part, stagnant.
Since 2010, a promising educational reform initiative in the United States has been the development of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the English Language Arts, Mathematics, and other content areas. This reform is a state-led initiative organized by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The common K-12 standards are intended to define knowledge and skills so that upon graduation students are college- and career-ready. A description on the shared website sponsored by NGA and the CCSSO states the standards are aligned with college and work expectations; are clear, understandable and consistent; include rigorous content and applica- tion of knowledge through high-order skills; build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards; are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and are evidence-based (CCSS, 2010).
An important goal of this reform is to develop and implement common standards and invite collaboration across states as well as to utilize a common metric in terms of assessment. Thus far, forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Schools have adopted the Common Core State Standards. In Connecticut, the context of this research, the strategic plan calls for transitioning from state standards to the CCSS standards, from state assessments to CCSS aligned assessment, and then to the Smarter Balance CCSS Assessments.
Interestingly, much direction for implementation of the CCSS at the local level is coming from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) as illustrated in Table 1. Implementation work in Connecticut has focused on transitioning from the state standards to the CCSS standards, aligning curriculum, creating Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at the state and district level, and developing and piloting a practice common core aligned state assessment. Most notable is encouragement for the creation and use of professional learning communities as a strategy to support implementation. According to the CSDE strategic plan, in spring 2013 the CSDE was in the process of further organizing district PLCs, aligning and making available model curriculum, providing exemplar student work and professional learning and assessment tools, and piloting CCSS aligned assessments.
The CCSS English Language Arts Standards are a departure from what has been promoted in the past, and they represent shifts in thinking about teaching and learning. In a recent EPE report three major shifts in the English Language Arts include the following:
Informational Text: Building knowl- edge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. At the elementary level, the standards call for a 50-50 balance between informational texts and literature. They shift the emphasis to 55 percent informational by middle school, and 70 percent by high school. Such reading includes content-rich nonfiction in history/social studies, science, and the arts. Informational text is seen as a way for students to build coherent general knowledge, as well as reading and writing skills.
Citing Evidence: Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text. The standards place a premium on students’ use of evidence from texts to present careful analyses and well-defended claims. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge or experience, the standards envision students’ answering questions that depend on reading texts with care. The standards also require the cultivation of narrative writing throughout the grades. The reading standards focus on students’ ability to read carefully and grasp information, arguments, ideas, and details based on evidence.
Complex Text: Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary. The standards build a “staircase” of increasing text complexity to prepare students for the types of texts they must read to be ready for the demands of college and careers. Closely related to text complexity, and inextricably connected to reading comprehension, is a focus on academic vocabulary: words that appear in a variety of content areas (such as “ignite” and “commit”). (Moving Forward: A National Perspective on States’ Progress In Common Core State Standards Implementing Planning, 2013, February, p.13).
The International Reading Association (IRA) supports the development and implementation of the standards. In a recent paper, the IRA International Reading Association Common Core State Standards Committee (2012) identifies areas that will present challenges to implementation of the standards, and provides guidelines and clarification to state and local leaders, teachers, principals, professors, and others who will implement the ELA standards. The guidelines call for extensive professional development. They note:
Changes this significant are not likely to occur successfully without equally significant investments in the knowledge and skills of educators along with necessary material supports (e.g., texts, technology). There are many things that teachers must do to try to help students reach the expectations detailed in the CCSS….States and schools will need to support such efforts with appropriate and timely professional development for teachers. (p.4)
Table 1: Strategic Plan. Adapted from the Connecticut State Department Common Core State Standards Strategic Plan. (Pp 21-23) Retrieved from http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/ccss/ccss_strategic_plan_sbe_120512.pdf
- Exploring and analyzing the possibility of providing a new “Practice” Common Core-aligned state assessment in Spring 2013
- Providing coordinated and consistent communication through the Common Core District Teams; setting Common Core District Team meetings
- Aligning, making available model curriculum practices and resources & exemplar student work
- Creating a Common Core District Team with guidance from the CSDE and attending the Common Core District Team meetings
- Engaging with the CSDE in content specific Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
- Nominating educators to become Common Core Coaches
- Providing coordinated and consistent communication through the Common Core
District Teams; setting Common Core District Team meetings
- Organizing ELA and Math PLCs for districts to share best practices, lessons learned
- Aligning and making available model curriculum practices and resources & exemplar student work, professional learning, & pilot assessments
- Participating in the Common Core District Team meetings
- Participating in the ELA and Math PLCs
- Planning and training for statewide implementation of the Common Core and new Common Core- aligned assessment in August 2013-2014
- Providing coordinated and consistent communication through the Common Core District Teams
- Organizing ELA and Math PLCs for districts to learn and share best practices, lessons learned
- Aligning and making available model curriculum practices and resources & exemplar student work, professional learning, assessment tools, & assessments
- Participating in the ELA and Math PLCs
- Implementing Common Core and new Common Core-aligned assessment
- Participating in the pilot Technology Plan
- Inviting CSDE to visit and view implementation of Common Core in classrooms
Clearly, the successful implementation of the CCSS necessitates the creation of a culture of literacy in schools in which all stakeholders, including teachers and leaders, are working together to improve the teaching of reading in PK-12 grades. The primary goal of this research project is to enhance our knowledge of leadership practices in support of a culture of literacy in ways that address significant literacy achievement challenges. In particular, we are interested to learn about how educators and educational leaders are addressing the reform initiative that requires the implementation of a new set of learning standards in schools across the nation.
This is the first part of a three-part study designed to provide insights into the perceptions of Connecticut teachers and administrators regarding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The first phase of the investigation serves as a pilot study during which the survey tool was tested with a group of graduate students at Central Connecticut State University. Our findings will provide a preliminary view into the creation of the culture of literacy.
Conceptual Framework for the Study
Why is there a need to create a culture of literacy? In 2005, the National Association for Secondary School Principals (NASSP) published Creating a Culture of Literacy: A Guide for Middle and High School Principals, a document that describes the major deficit in the literacy achievement of United States’ secondary students. Unfortunately, direct literacy instruction that might address this glaring deficit ends, in most cases, at the third grade. Literacy instruction must not end when students enter middle school. And this necessitates strong and effective leadership. This study is guided by the literature and research about leadership for school improvement, as well as effective instructional practice.
Leadership for School Improvement
The literature is clear about the need for effective leadership as an essential ingredient in educational reform (Wahlstrom, Seashore Louis, Leithwood, and Anderson, 2010). Richard Elmore (2004) lists five principles for leadership that supports major instructional improvement efforts. These princi- ples are that: 1) educational leadership must be focused on the improvement of instruction; 2) instructional improvement requires opportunities for on-going individual and group learning of teachers; 3) leaders must model for teachers what they expect them to do; 4) leadership roles and activities emanate from the expertise needed for learning; and 5) leaders and teachers must be held mutually accountable for outcomes.
The literature on creating a culture of literacy that supports high levels of academic achievement indicate that the following principles must be in place: literacy is the top priority in the school; educators are committed to impacting student learning; educators maintain high expectations for students; and faculty and admin- istrators maintain a strong academic press (Murphy, 2004). Further, time is managed productively and opportunities exist for staff to engage in professional learning through powerful professional learning communities. According to the report, Creating a Culture of Literacy (2005), the Literacy Leader engages teachers in a variety of key activities, including: establishing specific and measurable goals for literacy; aligning curriculum with standards; ensuring that content-area literacy strategies are used daily; and evaluating the use of literacy strategies through formal and informal observations.
The literature in support of school improve- ment indicates that strong leadership is essential (Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005; Murphy, 2004). Critical strategies for the literacy leader include: development of a Literacy Leadership Team (LLT); shared faculty commitment to improve achievement; creation of a collaborative environment in which teachers learn from and with each other; use of assessment data to identify specific learning needs; development of a school wide plan to address professional development needs of teachers; a curriculum that is aligned with standards; content-area literacy strategies that are used daily in classroom instruction; and development of an understanding of research- based literacy strategies (Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005; Murphy, 2004; Reeves, 2004; Schmoker, 2006; Wahlstrom, Seashore Louis, Leithwood, and Anderson, 2010).
Unfortunately, a particularly problematic issue facing classroom teachers around the world is isolation (Short and Greer, 2002). Experienced teachers are often isolated from each other and not provided with significant opportunities for learning from and with each other. Some results of teachers working in isolation are feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and lack of recognition. Recent research indicates that effectively designed professional development can counteract these feelings. In particular, “Professional development activities that take place at regular intervals and involve teachers in a rather stable social and collaborative context (i.e. networks or mentoring) have a significantly stronger association with teaching practices than regular workshops and courses” (OECD, 2009, p. 117).
Specific to supporting the professional development of teachers in a culture of literacy, the leader should: work closely with the Literacy Leadership Team (LLT) to determine professional learning needs of teachers; identify and use staff members’ skills and interests to support ongoing, job-embedded professional learning; implement coaching for teachers to learn and immerse literacy strategies within content classes; encourage “professional talk” among staff and provide time for discussions; provide resources for professional learning; use classroom observations to identify and support ongoing professional development (Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005).
Purpose of the Study and Primary Research Questions
This pilot study, the first part of a three-year plan, will lay the groundwork for the second and third phases of our investigation to ascertain perceptions over time of Connecticut teachers and administrators regarding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In years two and three, data will be collected from a random sample of teachers and administrators in the state using the refined survey to examine perceptions of the implementation of the CCSS over time.
While the study in all of its phases will not directly benefit participants, the perspectives on implementation of Common Core State literacy standards will inform university literacy and educational leadership professors as to how to enhance university-level curriculum related to the CCSS in a way that addresses needs with models of best practice. The study will inform the knowledge base on how leaders can better support large-scale changes.
Research questions that guide this study are as follows:
- What is the level of awareness on the part of teachers and administrators in Connecticut of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in literacy?
- What supports are provided by leaders for implementation of standards-based
- What types of changes in classroom practice have resulted from the implementation of standards-based literacy instruction?
This is a descriptive study. Data are collected using a survey administered over three years. The survey is a 48-item instrument that has been adapted from the Common Core Feedback Loop and is used with permission from the U.S. Education Delivery Institute. Two mirror versions of the instrument were developed: one for educators, and one for educational leaders. Each version has the same number of items, yet the language has been altered slightly to reflect the respondents.
The pilot survey was disseminated in spring 2013 to graduate students in programs in the departments of Educational Leadership and Reading and Language Arts, either in paper format, or as a link to an online version of the survey using SelectSurvey.NET. Twenty-eight graduate level leadership students (who are also teachers and who have some leadership responsibilities) responded to the survey designed for educational leaders.
Sixty-six teachers enrolled in the Masters Degree Program in Reading and Language Arts Department responded to a survey designed for teachers. Eighty percent of the teachers (53) were primary grade school level spanning K-5. The remaining 20% were middle school teachers (9%), high school teachers (4%) or teachers who spanned elementary to middle school (6%). Most teachers (79%) worked in traditional public schools; another 15% worked in Magnet Schools or Charter Schools. The remaining 6% of the teacher worked in other special school settings (Expeditionary learning school, Montessori School and a Dual Language and International Baccalaureate). One teacher was unemployed. The setting in which teachers worked spanned a range of socioeconomic levels. Data are analyzed using descriptive statistics.
Leadership in Support of the CCSS
In this first year of the study, preliminary data from responses by leaders and teachers provide some useful information to support the investigation of knowledge of leadership practices in support of a culture for literacy in our schools. In particular, preliminary data has been collected about how educators and educational leaders are addressing the reform initiative that requires the implementation of a new set of learning standards in schools in Connecticut.
Awareness of Standards. In terms of survey questions related to Awareness of Standards, the data indicate agreement with the following: respondents have read the new standards (81%, Leaders; 99%, Teachers); they have comprehensive knowledge (34%, Leaders; 38%, Teachers); Leaders (76%) agree that they are somewhat prepared to support school educators to teach the CCSS; Teachers (75%) agree they are somewhat prepared to teach the CCSS; both groups agree or strongly agree that the CCSS will lead to improved learning for the majority of students (93% Leaders; 83% Teachers).
The top three reasons provided by leadership students and teachers for why the
CCSS will benefit the majority of their schools’ students were the same and are as follows:
- They believe the standards will give students the opportunity to master key competencies, rather than just superficial exposure (75%, Leaders; 59%, Teachers).
- They indicate that the CCSS will help school systems ensure standards are vertically-aligned from kindergarten through grade 12 (Leaders, 71%; Teachers, 58%).
- They believe that standards will help educators focus on what’s most important (Leaders, 53%; Teachers, 43%). Each group demonstrated a different preference for their fourth top list of benefits. Fifty percent of the Leaders believe standards will provide students a clearer understanding of what they must know to succeed, while 43% of the Teachers believe that the standards will help focus educators on what is most important. (please see Table 2).
Among the Teachers (14%) who do not think that the Common Core will improve learning for all of their students the provide the following reasons:
- The standards are a “one size fits all” approach (10%).
- They are too rigorous for their students (7%).
- The standards do not provide flexibility for students who are not on grade level.
- The current state standards are better (3%).
While teachers have concerns, it appears that at least half of the Leader and Teacher group see important benefits as a result of the CCSS.
Table 2: Responses to Survey Questions related to Awareness of Standards
54% some knowledge
54% some knowledge
71% believe they will help school system ensure standards are vertically-aligned from kindergarten through grade 12.
50% believe they will help educators focus on what’s most important.
50% believe they will provide students a clearer understanding of what they must know to succeed.
46% believe they will help educators better prepare students for college.
58% believe they will help school system ensure standards are vertically-aligned from kindergarten through grade 12
43% believe they will help educators focus on what’s most important.
35% believe they will provide students a clearer understanding of what they must know to succeed.
48% believe they will help educators better prepare students for college.
12) Feel prepared to teach the CCSS
11% do not feel prepared
76% feel somewhat prepared
9% do not feel prepared
Leaders n=28 Teachers n=66
Understanding of Standards. Leadership and Teacher groups were asked about their beliefs in terms of providing certain types of learning environments that are consistent with ideas embedded in the CCSS. Both surveys revealed that there is an accurate understanding regarding the three key areas that are consistent with the CCSS:
- structuring opportunities for students to have conversations and develop arguments based on the texts they’ve read (86%, Leaders; 87%, Teachers);
- creating learning experiences that build knowledge using informational texts, not just literature (89%, Leaders; 94%, Teachers);
- providing instruction in academic vocabulary to support students’ understanding of complex text (75%, Leaders; 83%, Teachers)
Misconceptions are evident in both groups regarding the importance placed on:
- providing students with ongoing opportunities to write creatively, drawing from personal experiences (65%, Leaders; 60%, Teachers), and
- utilizing pre-reading strategies to help all students fully understand a text through discussions and/or overviews of context, vocabulary (78%, Leaders; 66%, Teachers). These two learning opportunities are not closely aligned with the CCSS (see Table 3).
Table 3: Responses to Survey Questions related to Understanding of Standards
21% somewhat important
9% somewhat important
15% said somewhat important or unimportant
8% somewhat important or unimportant
7% said somewhat important
7% somewhat important
5% somewhat important
25% somewhat aligned or insignificantly aligned
11% don’t know
35% somewhat aligned or insignificantly aligned
5% don’t know
4% said somewhat aligned
8% said somewhat aligned or unimportant
14% somewhat aligned or insignificantly aligned
11% don’t know
25% somewhat aligned
8% said insignificantly aligned
1% don’t know
11% don’t know
5% somewhat aligned
1% don’t know
11% somewhat aligned
14% I don’t know
11% somewhat aligned
1% not aligned
5% don’t know
Leaders n=28 Teachers n-66
Leader Support. While the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in classroom teaching and learning is a very new initiative, respondents were able to comment on leader support for the implementation of standards-based literacy instruction. In response to the question about the availability of different types of activities and resources, respondents reported availability of the following: collaborative planning time for deconstructing the CCSS (43%, Leaders; 48%, Teachers); collaborative planning time to align curriculum to the CCSS (39%, Leaders; 48%, Teachers); content-focused trainings on the CCSS (36%, Leaders; 43%, Teachers); resources on research/best practice in CCSS implementation (32%, Leaders; 25%, Teachers); job-embedded training or coaching focused on CCSS (29%, Leaders; 25%, Teachers); professional learning community focused on CCSS (29%, Leaders; 30%, Teachers). Additionally, 58% of the Leaders indicated there was a staff member who serves as a CCSS resource, while 22% of the Teachers indicated that this was so.
When asked about challenges to the implementation of the CCSS, the following needs were reported: more quality professional development (54%, Leaders; 41%, Teachers), more time to collaborate with colleagues (39%, Leaders; 29%, Teachers). Teachers (52%) also reported that they needed more aligned textbooks and materials.
According to Leaders, the following changes were made to the ways in which educators are supported in their understanding and use of the CCSS: they are sharing information and resources with educators about CCSS (61%); they are placing more emphasis on vertical alignment between grade levels (54%); they are creating more opportunities for collaboration among educators on CCSS (43%), and; and they are providing professional development opportunities that support CCSS (46%) (please see Table 4).
Thus far, nearly three fourths of leadership and teacher groups have received professional development on the implementation of the CCSS, and most participants agreed or strongly agreed that it was of high quality. The challenges facing them intersect. While they indicate availability of professional development and time for collaboration, they request that they need more.
Table 4: Responses To Survey Questions Related To Leader Support For Implementation Of Standards- Based Literacy Instruction
39% collaborative planning time to align curriculum to the CCSS
36% content-focused trainings on the CCSS
32% resources on research/best practice in CCSS implementation
29% job-embedded training or coaching focused on CCSS
29% professional learning community focused on CCSS
48% collaborative planning time to align curriculum to the CCSS
43% said content-focused trainings on the CCSS
25% resources on research/best practice in CCSS
25% job-embedded training or coaching focused on CCSS
30% professional learning community focused on CCSS
29% said Job-embedded training or coaching
21% said multi-day training
30% a one-day training opportunity
22% of the teachers report multi-day training.
23% report the formation of Professional Learning Communities,
6% report training in the form of a webinar or video, and
13% report that the Common
Core Standards are a focus in their university classrooms.
25% someone from outside the district
22% training brought in from outside of district
4% said Department of
6% said independent professional provider
12% university instructor
35% don’t know
43% don’t know
39% need more time to collaborate with colleagues
36% student knowledge
43% need more time to collaborate with colleagues
41% need more quality professional development
29% need more formative assessments aligned to the Common Core
25% student knowledge
32) What changes are you making to your teaching as a result of the CCSS? (Teacher Survey)
21% ensuring curricular materials reflect CCSS expectations
21% sharing information and resources related to CCSS
51% structuring opportunities
for more students to develop and solve their own problems
49% asking students more questions and encouraging them to develop answers independently
22% increasing collaboration with colleagues within their schools and in other schools.
54% placing more emphasis on vertical alignment between grade levels
43% creating more opportunities for collaboration among educators on CCSS
46% Providing professional
development opportunities that support CCSS
36% using classroom observations as opportunities to provide feedback on CCSS
39% providing more professional development opportunities on the Common Core
35% placing more emphasis on vertical alignment between grade levels
36% said creating more opportunities for collaboration among educators focused on CCSS
32% said sharing information and resources related to CCSS
Leaders n=28 Teachers n=66
Changes in classroom practice. The data from the Leadership and the Teacher Survey indicate that there are changes in teacher practice as a result of implementation of the CCSS. When asked if their school’s educators had incorporated the standards into their teaching expectations and practice, 75% (Leaders) and 70% (Teachers) agreed that some have incorporated them; 7% (Leaders) and 17% (Teachers) agree that all have fully incorporated them, and: 18% (Leaders) and 2% (Teachers) agree that they don’t know.
According to the Teacher Survey, the following kinds of CCSS-aligned changes are being made by teachers: 51% are structuring opportunities for more students to develop and solve their own problems; 49% are asking students more questions and encouraging them to develop answers independently; 22% are increasing collaboration with colleagues within their schools and in other schools. However, in regards to differentiation of instruction there appears to be some concern about differentiation of instruction among Leaders in comparison to the Teachers. Fifty-six percent (Leaders) and 77% (Teachers) report that the support provided to educators is helping them to differentiate instruction, while 46% (Leaders) and 17% (Teachers) disagreed with this statement.
Sixty percent of the leader respondents said they were confident in their ability to identify instructional practices that reflect the CCSS during classroom observations, though 28% disagreed or strongly agreed with this statement. Eighty-nine percent of leaders agreed that the CCSS will help them know what content should be taught and the sequence in which it should be taught. Leaders are mixed on their agreement as to whether the CCSS will improve their ability to identify the most effective educators (36% agree,
28% agree or strongly agree, and 25% do not know) (see Table 5).
Table 5: Responses to Survey Questions related to Changes in Classroom Practice as a Result of Implementation of the Common Core State Standards
expectations and practice
75% agree that some have
18% agree that they don’t know
70% of the teachers have incorporated the CCSS in some areas of their teaching,
2% agree that they do not know
differentiate instruction to meet unique
learner needs. (Leader Survey)
Effective practices to teach the Common Core will help me to differentiate instruction (Teacher Survey)
46% disagree or strongly disagree
17% disagree or strongly disagree
The CCSS will require that I change the way I incorporate instructional technology into classroom learning. (Teacher Survey)
11% disagree or strongly disagree
12% disagree or strongly disagree
reflect the CCSS during my classroom observations.
28% disagree or strongly disagree
11% don’t know
in my building.
28% disagree or strongly disagree
25% don’t know
7% disagree or strongly disagree
24% disagree or strongly disagree
Leaders n=28 Teachers n=66
Research Question #1
In considering data that addresses Research Question #1 (What is the level of awareness on the part of teachers and administrators in Connecticut of the Common Core State Standards in Literacy?), responses by educational leader students indicate that the CCSS initiative is not intended to be something in which educators are “tinkering” around the edges of what impacts students directly in the classroom. The focus of this initiative at the national, state, and local level is on teaching and learning in the classroom. This is clearly in line with Elmore’s (2004) first principle for leadership that supports major instructional improvement, and that is that leadership must focus on the improvement of instruction. Educational leaders appear to be growing in their awareness of this initiative, which is a critical first step in deep and meaningful change. It is very difficult to support improvement in teaching and learning if the key stakeholders do not understand or do not know about the essential ideas and concepts in the initiative.
Similarly, teachers are growing in their awareness, yet nearly three fourths of the teachers report that they are only somewhat prepared to implement the CCSS. These findings on levels of preparedness are consistent with a recent national survey conducted by the Hewlett Foundation (2012) in which 92% of participating teachers indicated that they were at least slightly prepared, and with one third of the respondents indicating that they were very familiar with the standards. In this same survey teachers indicated that they are less confident in their ability to implement the standards with certain student groups such as English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and with low-income students. (Gewertz, 2012). At the time of this survey there is a seemingly limited, but emerging preparedness among the participants in this study.
Research Question #2
When reflecting on data that addresses Research Question #2 (What supports are provided by leaders for implementation of standards-based literacy instruction?), preliminary data appear to indicate that leaders are engaging teachers in a variety of activities. This is consistent with the description of the Literacy Leader (Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005). There does seem to be an effort to align the standards with the curriculum in many instances. And consistent with another of Elmore’s (2004) key principles, leader students indicate there are some opportunities for collaborative activity related to the CCSS implementation.
It appears as though the leader students have been educated deeply enough themselves in the standards such that they can observe class- room practice and make sure that content-area literacy strategies are used daily and evaluate the use of literacy strategies through formal and informal observations. This is consistent with the stipulations of the Literacy Leader outlined in Creating a Culture of Literacy (2005).
Not necessarily apparent from the data are the following critical literacy leader strategies: use of assessment data to identify specific learning needs; development of a school wide plan to address professional development needs of teachers; use of a curriculum that is aligned with standards; use of content-area literacy strategies daily in classroom instruction; and development of an understanding of research-based literacy strategies (Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005; Murphy, 2004; Reeves, 2004; Schmoker, 2006; Wahlstrom, Seashore Louis, Leithwood, and Anderson, 2010). It will be interesting to discern over time whether or not the leader also works to integrate these strategies.
Seventy percent of the teachers received professional development in one or multiple formats, with 67% reporting that the professional development provided was of high quality. At this point in time 30% of our sample have been afforded the support of professional learning communities. Collaboration among teachers is one of the most prevalent supports for the purposes of understanding the standards and learning how to implement them. It would be expected that over time opportunities to collaborate in professional learning communities would increase since these supports are key components of the State Department of Connecticut’s strategic plan.
One of the prevalent concerns that teachers reported was the need for Common Core aligned materials. This is not surprising since teachers are accountable for day-to-day implementation of the Common Core and the focus on the CCSS to a great degree revolves around the use of exemplar texts, with a focus on nonfiction. This is likely to be a change for some teachers. Teachers also indicate that they need more professional development. These findings are consistent with the findings from a national survey of Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core (2013) regarding challenges that teachers face in implementing the Common Core.
Surveys revealed that most teachers and leaders are aware of and support three of the major shifts in the CCSS: 1) structuring opportunities for students to have conversations and develop arguments based on the texts they’ve read; 2) Creating learning experiences that build knowledge using informational texts, not just literature; and 3) Providing instruction in academic vocabulary to support students’ understanding of complex text.
The data also revealed that both teachers and leaders have misconceptions regarding practices that are now being downplayed by the CCSS. About two thirds of each group believe in the importance of personal response through writing and drawing and the practice of front-loading pre-reading strategies prior to having students read a text. Respondents from each survey indicated that they think that these practices are aligned with the CCSS. Clearly, professional development will be needed to clarify the shift and to help leaders and teachers decide the conditions under which these practices are most appropriate.
Our findings regarding misconceptions are supported in the literature by a myriad of articles clarifying the shifts and misconceptions surrounding the Common Core (Gewertz, 2013; Short, 2013; IRA, 2012; Strasser & Dobberton, 2012a, 2012b). As leaders prepare educators and as teachers implement the standards with students, it is essential that professional development address the standards beyond the declarative and procedural knowledge level. The implementation of the CCSS will require that both leaders and teachers develop conditional knowledge as to how the Common Core Standards will impact teaching and learning. For example, under what circumstances and for whom is it appropriate to spend time building background, and when does this become less productive in terms of allowing students to problem solve while reading? This kind of knowledge will require Professional Learning Communities that work together to study the standards, read professional literature, generate questions and systematically examine the impact of their teaching within the wide range of diversity that exists within the classroom and at the school level.
Research Question #3
When looking at responses that address Research Question #3 (What types of changes in classroom practice have resulted from the implementation of standards-based literacy instruction?), the preliminary data appear to indicate that opportunities to collaborate on aspects of the CCSS have been put in place, yet teachers still consider this to be an area of need. Both the Leadership Survey and Teacher Survey concur that changes have been made to incorporate the CCSS in some areas of teaching. It appears that teachers are making a shift towards a more rigorous curriculum in alignment with the CCSS. At least half of the teachers report posing more evidence- based questions and requiring their students to answer them independently. Similarly, they report that they are structuring opportunities for more students to generate and answer their own questions.
The literature on creating a culture of literacy that supports high levels of academic achievement indicates that the following principles must be in place: literacy is the top priority in the school; educators are committed to impacting student learning; educators maintain high expectations for students; and faculty and administrators maintain a strong academic press (Murphy, 2004). Furthermore, time is managed productively and opportunities exist for staff to engage in professional learning through powerful professional learning communities. While there is movement towards supporting teachers in implementing the Common Core Standards, in light of what was learned from Research Questions 1 and 2, the work of forming powerful professional learning communities to support the implementation of the CCSS initiative has only just begun.
As leaders continue to work to develop a culture of literacy in light of the new standards reform initiative, the preliminary data from this study may provide insights into what leaders might do. Leaders in support of a culture of literacy are encouraged to:
- Continue to support the development of PLCs during which educators can share best practice and learn from and with each other.
- Have a clear professional development plan in place that includes job-embedded learning opportunities and time for collaboration.
- Ensure that both leaders and teachers have
a deep and conditional understanding of the shifts that the CCSS are requiring and that this understanding addresses the need to modify and differentiate instruction to meet the wide range of diversity existing at the classroom and school level.
- Provide a range of resources to implement the shifts particular to nonfiction, along with other CCSS aligned materials and assessments to inform instruction.
There is strong consensus within the education community that American schools need to prepare students to participate in a global society. In particular, there is an especially strong focus on the need to address literacy challenges. In light of recent reform initiatives, most notably the Common Core State Standards, are leaders creating a culture or environment for enhancement of literacy? Preliminary data from the current study point to the fact that schools and school leaders do seem to be headed in a positive direction. There is still much room for additional and extensive support in order for this initiative to take deep root.
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