Penelope L. Lisi, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Educational Leadership
Central Connecticut State University
Catherine Kurkjian, Ed.D.
Professor, Department of Literacy, Early Childhood and Elementary Education
Central Connecticut State University
In 2005, the National Association for Secondary School Principals published a report (Creating a Culture of Literacy: A Guide for Middle and High School Principals) that describes the major deficit in the literacy achievement of United States’ secondary students. Direct literacy instruction that might address this glaring deficit ends, in most cases, at the third grade. 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.
Since 2010, a promising, though somewhat controversial educational reform initiative in the United States has been the development of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the English Language Arts and in Mathematics, and other content areas (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010). The common K-12 standards are intended to define knowledge and skills so that upon graduation students are college and career ready. The successful implementation of the CCSS necessitates the creation of cultures of literacy in schools in which all stakeholders, including teachers and leaders, are working together to improve the teaching of reading from PK-12 grades. Forty-two states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Much direction for implementation of the CCSS in Connecticut is coming from the Connecticut State Department of Education (Pryor et al, 2012; Pryor, 2014). Most notable is encouragement for the creation and use of professional learning communities (PLCs) as a strategy to support implementation. The intention is that schools and districts will move towards establishing cultures of literacy.In this article, we provide a hitorical overview and examine the interface between federal policy and the development of the CCSS. We describe the results from Year 2 of a three-year study that is designed to ascertain perceptions of Connecticut teachers and administrators regarding the implementation of the CCSS. During Year 1 (the pilot year), we used a 48-item instrument adapted from the Common Core Feedback Loop to collect baseline data about respondents’ understanding of the literacy standards and perceptions of supports for implementation of the standards. In Year 2, we fine-tuned the survey instrument, based on responses during the pilot year, and disseminated the survey throughout the state of Connecticut. Of particular interest is how leaders are creating a culture for enhancement of literacy.
The primary goal of this research project is to enhance our knowledge of leadership practices in support of a culture for literacy in ways that address significant literacy achievement challenges. In particular, we are interested to learn 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. While educators appear to be committed to defining expectations of what students should know and be able to do (EPE Research Center, 2013), there appear to be varying reactions to the national standards that have been established, to supports that have been provided for teachers to learn to implement them in the classroom, and to assessment systems that measure the integration and impact of the standards on student learning (Gewertz, 2011).
This historical review traces trends and provides a context leading up to the birth of the CCSS initiative. Traditionally, a tension has existed between local governance and federal control of schools. While local governance is considered a constitutional right by virtue of the interpretation of the Tenth Amendment, one can trace the increasing impact of federal policy on reading instruction and, in the case of the focus of this article, how it interfaces with the development of the CCSS.
The Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was the first legislation that provided monetary incentives to states to improve the academic achievement of low-income families and to redress educational inequality among “minorities”. The ESEA was an important component of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Compensatory programs such as Head Start and Title I (Chapter I) were intended to provide more and better educational services to move the poor out of poverty, to ensure equity in educational opportunities, and to safeguard compliance with civil rights policies. Over the next three decades these programs grew extensively and were increasingly funded and accompanied by a demand for increased measures of accountability. Policies moved from targeting categorical groups in order to close achievement gaps to impacting all students. Funding for these programs provided needed resources to enhance reading instruction for all students.
In the 1980s Title I programs came under fire as demonstrated by a review of test scores and an examination of its overall efficacy. Allington (1984) argued that policies constrained effective reading instruction. He suggested redesign in areas such as its delivery, curriculum, instructional time, instructional focus and student evaluation. He called for a focus on research-based reading instruction and admonished reading professionals for too little involvement in conducting systematic investigations. The revamping of Title I programs from pull out to push in programs provided an entry point for districts to use funding to benefit reading instruction for all students.
In this same era the whole language movement, a holistic learner-centered philosophy guiding literacy instruction, was at its peak. Pushback to this approach came in a variety of forms. There was a great deal of politicized debate focusing on whole language versus phonics instruction, referred to as the Reading Wars. The Center for the Study of Reading under the sponsorship of the National Academy of Reading published a report, Becoming a Nation of Readers (Anderson et al, 1983), which provided a thorough synthesis of existing research and implications for reading instruction. This report underlined the importance of teaching phonics and its inclusion into reading instruction in a balanced way that did not polarize or politicize the debate.
Congress provided a grant in 1989 to the Educational Testing Service to expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to compare results of student performance in reading and mathematics and writing across grade levels and states. At that point California’s state level curricular policies were holistic and this was a source of controversy. The NAEP Assessment of 1992 tested 4th and 8th graders and found that California scored at the bottom of the tested states in reading achievement. This provided fodder for the phonics proponents and helped to propel the accountability movement through development of yearly statewide standardized assessments and scientifically research-based instruction.
During this time legislated reading programs were in place. Shanahan (2011) described the programs and provided a timeframe of federal literacy and language programs impacting reading instruction from the 1960s-2009. Related to the standards movement was the National Voluntary English Language Arts Standards.
In 1992 The National Governors Association called for specific learning standards to be used to enforce accountability. The US Department of Education contracted with the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and with two professional literacy organizations, the International Reading Association (IRA) (now International Literacy Association, ILA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). A great deal of controversy surrounded the development of these professional standards. The Department of Education argued that the resulting standards were too broad and did not define what learners should know and be able to do in various literacy domains across grade levels. Funding for the standards was pulled in 1994. However, ILA and NCTE still published these professionally developed voluntary standards, and they are currently being revamped.
The 1994 reauthorization of ESEA, The Improving America’s School Act (IASA) required states to adopt their own high standards for all students. For Title I schools there was an expectation of high quality teaching and professional development to ensure low achieving students in high poverty areas would meet challenging standards. Accountability was built in through the use of state developed standards and assessments for all children (Riley, 1995). Varying standards at different levels of difficulties across states made it difficult, however, to enforce accountability.
The No Child Left Behind legislation was enacted in 2002 to institute high stakes testing with incentives and sanctions for not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The AYP component of NCLB required that states use a single accountability measure to determine if individuals and subgroups of students were making adequate progress on state standards (Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, 2011). States were to hold districts and schools accountable for meeting AYP with the goal of 100% proficiency by 2014.
Additionally, NCLB embraced scientific research-based instruction based on the findings of the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000). In 1997 the NRP was formed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Department of Education. The panel established criteria by which to select scientifically worthy studies and identified topics with feedback from regional public hearings. Debate and controversy surrounded the National Reading Panels’ process as well as the determination of what counts as scientific research. The NRP Report has had a tremendous impact on what is considered its narrow focus on reading instruction in its identification of the five “pillars’ of reading instruction. Research-based practices were identified that provide benefits to learners in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension and professional development for teachers (NICHD (2000). Critiques of the National Reading Panel often center on what was ignored in their review. Allington (2005) identifies and cites research on the “other five pillars” of reading instruction that were neglected, and of the dismissal of quasi-experimental studies that were not easily codified, and as such may have been lost to history. In 2002 the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required instruction based on the findings of the NRP. Shanahan (2011) notes that “the NCLB enactment mentions scientific based reading research more than 100 times” (p.155).
Criticism of the NCLB Act revolved around a range of issues including the AYP design in which the rigor of standards varied from state to state. Once again differing standards across state mitigated accountability efforts. Shanahan (2011) argues that states were not encouraged to generate competitive standards due to sanctions in place if they failed to meet them. Others argued that the goals of AYP were too stringent and unrealistic and would set up schools for failure (Center on Educational Policy, 2004, as cited in Editorial Projects Research Center, 2011; Cronin, 2004). Cost was another issue in the implementation of the law, and some contended that the federal government was not contributing its share to meet their mandate (Orfield et al., 2004 as cited in Editorial Projects Research Center, 2011). Other criticisms address the impact of high stakes testing and its relationship to teacher turnover (Ingersoll, Merrill & May, 2016), and the impact of test preparation on curriculum and student learning and engagement.
The CCSS emerged in response to standards developed in states that were deemed to be “lower and uneven …. coupled with even lower assessments in many states” (VanTassel, 2015, p.60). With the reauthorization of NCLB, The National Governors Association (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the development of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Four billion dollars provided by Congress as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), were used to fund Race To The Top (RTTT) grants (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).
Competitive rounds of grants were issued to challenge states to adopt college- and career-ready standards for all students, develop assessments aligned with the CCSS, provide student data systems for accountability, and link teacher evaluation to student performance on standardized tests. Shanahan (2011) explains that since Title I funds have been broadly distributed and combined with general education money to support reading instruction for all students, districts are reliant on them to fund reading instruction for all students. Moreover, he indicates that under ESEA, originally designed to force compliance with civil rights laws, the federal government has the power to withhold funds for noncompliance to educational policies. In this way federal policies regarding literacy can be used to influence literacy education.
In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act which takes effect in the 2017-2018 school year. With the passage of ESSA, the US Department of Education is now prohibited from attempting to, “influence, incentivize, or coerce State adoption of the Common Core State Standards as it relates to state control over standards and states rights to opt out of the Common Core (Section 8544), prohibition of federal mandates, direction or control to incentivize, mandate, coerce or promote the CCSS or any other standards (Section 8526A,) Prohibition of use of funds and endorsement of curriculum (Section 8527) ( as cited in Education and the Committee Workforce, Sept. 2016). It will be interesting to explore the extent of the adoption and use of the CCSS in light of ESSA legislation. While federal initiatives and policy related to the CCSS have been traditionally bipartisan, the CCSS has taken on political overtones with pushback from those on the right and left (Baker, 2014) making it unclear as to what impact a newly elected president will have on its implementation.
Conceptual Framework for the Study
Literacy instruction must not end when students enter middle school. However, creating cultures of literacy 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. The literature is clear about the need for effective leadership as an essential ingredient in educational reform (Blankstein, 2012; Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005; Deal and Peterson, 2009; Fullan, 2007; Hoy and Miskel, 2008; Murphy, 2004; Reeves, 2004; Schmoker, 2006; Wagner, 2008; Wahlstrom, Seashore Louis, Leithwood, and Anderson, 2010; Zepeda, 2007).
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 (Gewertz, 2013; International Reading Association Common Core State Standards Committee, 2012; Murphy, 2004; National Association of Secondary School Principals; 2005; Torgesen, Houston, and Rissman, 2007). Further, time is managed productively and opportunities exist for staff to engage in professional learning
The research on the role of collaboration in school improvement is compelling, particularly around the use of professional learning communities (PLCs). Shirley Hord (1997) is credited with coining the term “professional learning community”. She defined a professional learning community (PLC) as “a school in which the professionals (administrators and teachers) continuously seek and share learning to increase effectiveness for students, and act on what they learn” (p.1). In professional learning communities, teachers learn to work in high performing teams in which collaboration is embedded in routine practices; time for collaboration is built in the school day; team norms guide collaboration; and teams pursue specific and measurable performance goals (Hord, 2004). When a collaborative culture and professional learning communities are in evidence, the research indicates that this leads to high levels of academic achievement.
DuFour and Eaker (1998) describe characteristics of professional learning communities that include the following: shared mission, vision, and values; collective inquiry in which community members engage in a collective process of seeking and testing new methods, reflecting on results; collaborative teams in which members learn from one another, thus creating momentum to fuel continued improvement; action orientation and experimentation; continuous improvement; and results orientation through which community members know that their efforts must be assessed on the basis of results rather than intentions.
Purpose of the Study and Primary Research Questions
The current study is the second part of a three-year plan to ascertain perceptions over time of Connecticut teachers and administrators regarding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While the study 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 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 beliefs do teachers and leaders possess relative to the value of the CCSS?
- What supports are provided by leaders for implementation of standards-based literacy instruction?
- 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 over a three-year time period using a survey. During the first year we piloted the data collection tool and collected baseline data from students we served in terms of their understanding of the literacy standards and the supports for, and challenges to the implementation of the standards. In Year Two, the survey was revised and disseminated to all elementary teachers in grades 3, 4, and 5 (6,000 teachers), and all (900) elementary administrators in the state to ascertain perceptions related to use of the CCSS over time.
In terms of elementary teacher respondents, the following demographic data was collected: 68% of the respondents taught in grades 4-6, 35% in grades 2-3. Of all teacher respondents, 34% work in an urban setting, 49% work in a suburban setting, and 17% work in a rural setting. And finally, 39% work in a setting in which 25% or less of the students are supported by a free and reduced lunch regulation; 22% work in a setting of more than 76% free and reduced lunch students.
In terms of elementary administrator respondents, the following demographic data was collected: 69% serve as school principals, 28% of the respondents serve as assistant principals. In terms of experience, 38% of the administrator respondents have served in that capacity for 1-5 years, 31% for 6-10 years, and 30% for more than 10 years. In terms of work setting, 32% of the leader respondents work in an urban setting, 53% of the leader respondents work in a suburban setting, , and 14% in an urban setting.
The survey, originally piloted as a 48-item instrument adapted from the Common Core Feedback Loop and used with permission from the U.S. Education Delivery Institute became a 32-item instrument in Year 2. For the Year 2 survey, two mirror versions of the instrument were again developed: one for educators, and one for educational leaders. Each version had the same number of items, yet the language was altered slightly to reflect the respondents. This instrument was grounded in the Year 1 survey, and adapted from a survey developed by Achieve, the U.S. Education Delivery Institute (EDI) and Education First. Items were also included with permission from the Missouri State Common Core Standards Survey and the Professional Learning Community Survey from the Polk County Public Schools in Florida. Survey items were grouped within five separate categories that included items related to: demographics, awareness of the CCSS, beliefs about the CCSS, preparation for implementation of the CCSS, and impact of the CCSS on instructional practice.
In spring 2014, the researchers requested email addresses from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CTSDE) for 6,000 elementary teachers and 900 elementary level administrators. Following approval of the study by the university’s Human Studies Council/ Institutional Review Board, emails were sent to potential respondents asking for their participation in the study. Confidentiality of responses was assured, and the email provided a link to an on-line survey (using SelectSurvey.NET) for respondents to access the instrument. Two follow-up emails were sent to all potential respondents. When access to the survey was closed, the response rate of usable surveys for the elementary educators was approximately 15% and 20% for the elementary administrators.
As indicated earlier, this is a descriptive study. Preliminary data analyses have used simple descriptive statistics. We plan to conduct additional statistical analyses on the quantitative data, as well as coding of responses to the final open-ended item. Qualitative data will be analyzed for patterns across questions and participants.
In Year 2 of the study, data from responses by leaders and teachers provide 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 analysis indicates that educators and educational leaders are addressing the reform initiative that requires the implementation of a new set of learning standards in schools in Connecticut. That said, there does appear to be some variation in perceptions about awareness of the standards and impact on teaching. It must be noted that, as discussed previously in the section on demongraphics, approximately one-half of both the leader and teacher respondents work in a suburban setting, and one-third of both sets of respondents work in an urban setting. That said, we did not tease out responses in terms of demographics. Instead, findings are discussed by the full leader group and the full teacher group.
Awareness of standards
In terms of survey questions related to Awareness of Standards, the data indicate that 64% of the leaders have extensive knowledge and 34% have some level of knowledge about the CCSS. In terms of leader responses, 98% indicate they have read the CCSS, 91% indicate they are aware of the school plan for implementation, and 87% are aware of the district plan for implementation (see Table 1).
In terms of teacher responses about awareness, 36% indicated they have comprehensive knowledge, and 59% indicate they have some knowledge. Ninety-eight percent indicate they have read the CCSS and 83% are aware of a school plan and 84% are aware of a district plan.
Responses to Survey Questions related to Awareness of Standards
|Key concept: Awareness||Teacher response||Leader response|
|(6) Knowledge of state’s transition to the CCSS
|36% comprehensive knowledge
59% some knowledge
|64% extensive knowledge
34% some knowledge
|(7) Have read CCSS||98% yes||98% yes|
|(8) Awareness of plan (school)||83% yes
|(9) Awareness of plan (district)||84% yes
|(10) Awareness of shift- citing textual evidence||87% Correct response||94% Correct response|
Beliefs about the CCSS
When asked about their beliefs, 81% of the leader respondents indicated they believe that the CCSS will lead to improved student learning for the majority of students.
(see Table 2). Reasons provided by leaders for why the CCSS will benefit the majority of their schools’ students include: 88% believe the CCSS are more demanding and raise expectations for student learning; 66% believe the CCSS will help students master key competencies, and 59% believe the CCSS will help the school ensure standards are vertically aligned K-12.
In contrast to leader respondents, 47% of teachers indicated that they believe that the CCSS will lead to improved student learning for the majority of students. Reasons provided by teachers for why the CCSS will benefit the majority of their schools’ students include: 82% believe the CCSS are more demanding and will raise expectations for student learning; but 33% believe the CCSS will help students master key competencies; and 33% believe the CCSS will help the school system ensure standards are vertically aligned. It appears that among those who believe that the CCSS will improve student learning for the majority of students, a high number of leaders and teachers believe the CCSS are more demanding and will raise expectations for student learning.
Responses to Survey Questions related to Beliefs about the CCSS
|Key concept: Beliefs||Teacher response||Leader response|
|(11) Level of agreement that CCSS will improved learning for majority of school’s students||47% agree
|(12) Reasons for belief why CCSS will benefit majority of students|
|CCSS will help students master key competencies||33 %||66%|
|The CCSS will help school system ensure standards are vertically-aligned K-12||33%||59%|
|(14) The CCSS are more demanding and raise expectations for student learning.||82%||88%|
|The CCSS will help teachers know what content and sequence to teach||55%||83%|
|CCSS will help differentiate instruction to meet unique needs of students||39%||53%|
|CCSS will change use of technology||66%||74%|
|Administrators believe they can identify instructional practices that represent CCSS during classroom observations||89%|
|Administrators believe they have the ability to identify most effective educators||46%|
|(16) Two top challenges in implementation|
|Need more aligned textbooks and materials||50%||22%|
|Need more quality professional development||47%||55%|
A further investigation of beliefs regarding the CCSS indicated that 83% of the leaders believe the CCSS will help teachers know what content to teach. However, 55% of the teachers believed the same thing. Only 53 % of leaders believe the CCSS will help teachers differentiate instruction and 39% of the teachers believed the same thing. On a more positive note, 74% of the leaders believe the CCSS will change teacher use of technology and 66% of the teachers believe the same thing. Interestingly, 89% of the leaders believe the CCSS will help them identify instructional practices that represent the CCSS in classroom observations. However, only 46% believe they have the ability to identify effective teaching. Finally, in terms of challenges to implementation of the CCSS, 55% of the leaders and 47% of teachers believe teachers need more quality professional development while only 22% of leaders indicate there is a need for more textbooks and materials aligned to the CCSS as opposed to 50% of the teachers who have articulated this need
Preparation and Support for Implementation of the CCSS
When asked if they feel prepared for using the CCSS, 92% of the leaders indicated they feel completely or somewhat prepared. When asked the same question, 78% of the teachers indicated they feel completely or somewhat prepared (see Table 3).
Responses To Survey Questions Related To Preparation and Support For Implementation Of Standards-Based Literacy Instruction
|Key concept: Supports||Teacher response||Leader response|
|17. Do you feel prepared to teach the Common Core State Standards?
|10% Completely prepared
68% Somewhat prepared
19% No, I do not feel prepared at all
|20% Completely prepared
72% Somewhat prepared
6% No, I do not feel prepared at all
|18) What would help you be better prepared to teach the Common Core State Standards? (check all that apply)|
|More information about how CCSS changes what is expected of my practice||45%||54%|
|Access to assessments aligned to CCSS||52%||59%|
|Access to curricular resources aligned to CCSS||73%||58%|
|Collaborative planning time for understanding CCSS||40%||62%|
|Collaborative planning time to align curriculum to CCSS||37%||64%|
|(20) Have you participated in professional development on CCSS?||Yes- 83%
|(21) [If yes] How would you describe those professional development/training opportunities? (check all that apply)|
|Professional Learning Community||26%||51%|
|(22) [If you received PD) Who provided the training? (check all that apply)|
|A staff member from my school or district||70%||81%
|(23) CCSS training I have received has been of high quality that has helped me improve my practice.||36%Agree
|(24) For each statement please choose the answer that most closely reflects your school culture|
|Faculty/staff members talk to each other about their situations and challenges||79% Agree
11% Somewhat or Not at all
3% Somewhat or Not at all
|Teachers assume that all children can learn at reasonably high levels and that teachers can help them||58% Agree
19% Somewhat or Not at all
12% Somewhat or Not at all
|Teachers work together to develop shared understandings of students, curriculum and instruction; produce materials and activities||52% Agree
24% Somewhat or Not at all
12% Somewhat or Not at all
|Through words and actions teachers affirm their common values concerning critical educational issues||56% Agree
18% Somewhat or Not at all
| 57% Agree
14% Somewhat or Not at all
|25. Is there a staff member in your school or district who has been identified as a teacher resource on CCSS?||33% Yes
28% I don’t know
7% I don’t know
|(26) Rate the degree to which the following structures are in place at your school|
|A formal process provides substantial and regularly scheduled time for educators to conduct on-going self-examination.||18% Agree
69% Somewhat or Not at all
40% Somewhat or Not at all
|Teachers have common spaces for discussion of education practices||34% Agree
54% Somewhat or Not at all
20% Somewhat or Not at all
|There are recurring formal situations in which teachers work together (e.g. team teaching, integrated lessons)||22% Agree
61% Somewhat or Not at all
29% Somewhat or Not at all
|Opportunities exist for an exchange of ideas within and across organizational units (e.g. teams, grade levels, and departments).||31% Agree
50% Somewhat or Not at all
15% Somewhat or Not at all
|Teachers have autonomy to make decisions regarding their work guided by the norms and beliefs of the professional community.||37% Agree
43% Somewhat or Not at all
20% Somewhat or Not at all
|27) What changes, if any, are being made to the ways you are supported in implementing the Common Core State Standards? The leader, or leadership team is:|
|Providing opportunities for you to collaborate with colleagues on CCSS implementation||38%||64%|
|Ensuring that curricular materials reflect CCSS||35%||61%|
|Sharing information and resources with educators related to CCSS||42%||69%|
|Professional development opportunities that support CCSS implementation||33%||53%|
When asked what would help them feel better prepared to use the CCSS, 64% indicated teachers should have more collaborative planning time to align curriculum to the CCSS, 62% believed teachers should have collaborative planning time to understand the CCSS, 59% indicated teachers should have access to assessments aligned to the CCSS, and 58% indicated teachers should have access to curricular resources aligned to the CCSS. When asked the same question, 73% of the teachers indicated they should have access to curricular resources aligned to the CCSS, and 52% said they should have access to assessments aligned to the CCSS.
Respondents were asked to describe their professional training for implementation of the CCSS. Fifty-one percent of the leaders indicated teachers were engaged in professional learning communities, and 49% indicated teachers were engaged in multi-day training. When asked the same question, 42% of the teachers indicated they had received one day of training, 26% indicated they were engaged in a PLC, and 23% indicated they had received multi-day training. Most training appears to have been provided by a staff member from the respondent’s district. However, when asked if the training had been of high quality, 66% of the leaders agreed that it had, while only 36% of the teachers agreed that it had.
Respondents were asked about the culture of the school in relation to support for the CCSS. Both leaders and teachers agree that faculty and staff talk with each other about their challenges (85% of the leaders and 79% of the teachers). When asked if teachers believe that all children can learn at reasonably high levels and that teachers can help them, 67% of the leaders agreed, while 58% of the teachers agreed. When asked if teachers work together to develop shared understanding of teaching and learning, 67% of the leaders agreed that they do, while 52% of the teachers agreed that they do.
In response to the question about structures that are in place in their school to support the implementation of the CCSS, 46% of the leaders believe that there is a formal process of regularly scheduled time for educators to engage in on-going self-examination. Only 18% of the teachers agreed that this structure was in place. When asked if they have common space for discussion of education practices, 70% agreed the teachers do have that space, while only 34% of the teachers agreed that space exists. When asked if there are formal structures for teachers to work together (for example, through team teaching), 53% of the leaders agreed there are, while only 22% of the teachers agreed with the statement. When asked if opportunities exist for an exchange of ideas across organizational units, 69% of the leaders agreed with the statement, while only 31% of the teachers agreed. And when asked if teachers have autonomy to make decisions regarding their work, guided by the beliefs of the professional community, 58% of the leaders agreed with the statement, while only 37% of the teachers agreed.
When asked about changes that are being made in how teachers are supported in implementing the CCSS, 69% of the leaders indicated there are opportunities for sharing of information and resources, while only 42% of the teachers believe that support exists. Sixty-four percent of the leaders believe there are opportunities for teachers to collaborate with colleagues about the CCSS, while only 38% of the teachers agreed with that support.
Changes in classroom practice
The data from the CCSS Survey indicate that there are changes in teacher practice as a result of implementation of the standards (Please see Table 4). When asked if their school’s educators are building students’ knowledge through content-rich nonfiction, 80% of the leaders and 72% of the teachers indicated that is happening. And when asked if teachers are providing students with reading and writing experiences grounded in evidence from literary and informational texts, 78% of the leaders and 80% of the teachers indicated that is happening. Finally, when asked if teachers regularly provide students with practice in using complex grade-level text, 61% of the leaders, and 57% of the teachers indicated that is happening. Oddly enough, when asked if teachers are incorporating CCSS into their teaching expectations, 38% of leaders and 33% of the teachers indicated that is happening fully.
Responses to Survey Questions related to Changes in Classroom Practice as a Result of Implementation of the Common Core State Standards
|Key concept: Changes||Teacher response||Leader response|
|(28) Which of the following central shifts required from the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts/Literacy are you making? (check all that apply)|
|Build students’ knowledge through content-rich non-fiction||72%||80%|
|Provide students reading and writing experiences with evidence from literary and informational text||80%||78%|
|Provide regular opportunities for students to practice with complex grade-level text||57%||61%|
|Facilitate evidence based conversations||57%||62%|
|(29) Have you incorporated CCSS into your teaching expectations and practice||33% Fully
64% Some Areas
60% Some Areas
|(30) To what extent are the following shifts in teaching occurring in your classroom?|
|Structure opportunities for students to have conversations and develop text based arguments||57% Agree
19% Somewhat or Not at all
14% Somewhat or Not at all
|Create learning experiences that build knowledge using informational texts||75% Agree
7% Somewhat or Not at all
7% Somewhat or Not at all
|Provide instruction in academic vocabulary to support student understanding of complex text||58% Agree
14% Somewhat or Not at all
14% Somewhat or Not at all
|Providing instruction in analyzing and using visual and multimedia elements in reading and writing||48% Agree
26% Somewhat or Not at all
23% Somewhat or Not at all
|(31) Rate the level of your school’s implementation of the following components of the CCSS English Language Arts|
|Guiding students to read texts closely (close reading)||86% Current Lesson
|Guiding students to answer text dependent questions||97% Current Lesson||98% Current Lesson
|Guiding students to draw on evidence in their writing||90% Current Lesson
|76% Current Lesson
|Guiding students to consider academic vocabulary in context||78%Current Lesson
|83% Current Lesson
|Guiding students to notice structural features of text||92% Current Lesson
|Guiding students to use visual/ multimedia elements in reading and writing||66% Current Lesson
25% Next Year
|63% Current Lesson
34% Next Year
When asked to what extent there are shifts in teaching practices in the classroom, 59% of the leaders and 57% of the teachers indicated teachers structure opportunities for students to have conversations and develop text-based arguments. Seventy-four percent of leaders and 75% of teachers believe teachers are creating learning experiences that build knowledge using informational text. And 61% of leaders and 58% of teachers believe teachers provide instruction in academic vocabulary to support student understanding of complex text. Finally, more than 75% of the leaders and 75% of the teachers believe teachers are implementing a variety of CCSS English Language Arts standards, including: guiding students to read texts closely; guiding students to answer text-dependent questions, and guiding students to notice structural features of texts.
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 leaders indicate their overwhelming belief that they are knowledgeable about the CCSS standards.
Similarly, teachers are knowledgeable about the standards, though more believe they have some knowledge, as opposed to full knowledge, like the vast majority of leaders.
Research Question #2
When reflecting on data that addresses Research Question #2 (What beliefs do
teachers and leaders possess relative to the value of the CCSS?), a preliminary examination of the data indicates that leaders and teachers appear to hold some significantly different beliefs. Most notable are strongly held leader beliefs that the CCSS will lead to improved student learning. Less than 50% of the teachers agreed with this and 39% of them disagreed with this statement. This is a critically important difference that will need to be addressed. Additionally, 83% of leaders and 55% of teachers believe the CCSS will help teachers know what content to teach. Further, 66% of leaders and 33% of teachers believe the CCSS will help students master key competencies.
Beliefs influence school and organizational culture. Significant school improvement will be very difficult to implement effectively if values and beliefs- the core of school culture- are not addressed. This is consistent with the research on professional learning communities (e.g. DuFour and Eaker, 1998; Hord, 1997, 2004). In order to support school improvement efforts, leaders must ensure a shared vision, norms, beliefs, and values around the effort.
Research Question #3
When reflecting on data that addresses Research Question #3 (What supports are provided by leaders for implementation of standards-based literacy instruction?), a preliminary examination of the data appears to indicate that leaders are engaging teachers in a variety of activities. Leaders and teachers agree at high levels that there are opportunities for faculty to talk with each other about challenges and situations. However, this is a clear discrepancy between leader and teacher perceptions about structures that are in place to support teacher implementation of the CCSS. In particular, these discrepancies appear in the areas of: teachers having common space for discussion of education practices, opportunities for exchange of ideas across organizational units, and teacher autonomy.
Elmore (2004) outlined key principles for school improvement, including the notion that leaders provide opportunities for collaboration activity related to the CCSS implementation. While leaders appear to believe those opportunities exist, they would be well-served to be clear with teachers about where those opportunities exist.
Even when asked about opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher and leader perceptions are uneven. While 64% of the leaders believe they provide opportunities for collaboration about CCSS, only 38% of the teachers believe those opportunities exist. It would be expected that over time opportunities to collaborate in professional learning communities would increase, or engagement in existing opportunities would expand, since these supports are key components of the State Department of Connecticut’s strategic plan. Clearly, leaders should consider additional ways of supporting teachers in this critical school improvement effort, a requirement consistent with the research and literature (Creating a Culture of Literacy, 2005; Murphy, 2004; Reeves, 2004; Schmoker, 2006; Wahlstrom, Seashore Louis, Leithwood, and Anderson, 2010).
Surveys revealed that the majority of teachers and leaders are aware of, and supportive of the major shifts in the CCSS that include 1) building student knowledge through content-rich non-fiction; 2) providing students with reading and writing experiences grounded in evidence from literary and information text; 3) providing regular opportunities for students to practice with complex grade-level text; and 4) facilitating evidence-based conversations. While this is a positive finding, clearly, professional development will be needed to support the shifts and to help teachers decide the conditions under which these practices are most appropriate.
Research Question #4
When looking at responses that address Research Question #4 (What types of changes in classroom practice have resulted from the implementation of standards-based literacy instruction?), the preliminary data appear to indicate that leaders and teachers agree at fairly high levels that the CCSS are being implemented in classroom practice.
It appears that, while teachers may not believe in the value of this initiative, they are making a shift towards a more rigorous curriculum in alignment with the CCSS. Both
teachers and leaders believe at levels over 75% that teachers are doing the following: guiding students to read texts closely, guiding students to answer text-dependent questions, guiding students to draw on evidence in their writing, and guiding students to notice structural features of text.
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. Recommendations include the following:
- Continue to support the development of PLCs during which educators can share best practice and learn from and with each other.
- Engage in school-wide reflection on core values and beliefs, particularly related to the CCSS.
- Have a clear professional development plan in place that includes job-embedded learning opportunities and time for collaboration.
- Ensure that leaders and teachers have a deep understanding of the shifts that the CCSS are requiring
- Provide a range of resources to implement the shifts particular to nonfiction, along with other CCSS aligned materials and assessments to inform instruction.
- Provide opportunities for teachers to sort out the misconceptions that abound and provide opportunities that take into account differentiating instruction so that this initiative can address the needs of all students.
There is little argument that educators in American schools need to prepare students to participate in a global society. In particular, there is a consensus that this need extends especially to reading/ language arts, or literacy, and mathematics. With relation to building more effective opportunities for students to build upon their literacy capacity, the primary question is, 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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