On December 6, 2010 the Colorado Department of Education re-released the Colorado Academic Math and Reading, Writing and Communication Standards. Every since hearing the “new” standards, which were “approved” in December 2009 were being revised, we decided to slow down our curriculum alignment work at the district level. I’m glad we did. The revised standards look extraordinarily different than the draft revised standards CDE released in June 2010 and removed from their website around October 2010.
The new Colorado Standards are the Common Core standards, repackaged in same landscape format introduced to us in 2009. At first, we thought the revisions would blend the Common Core student learning objectives into the Colorado student learning objectives. But, what we actually have are the Common Core learning objectives copied and pasted word-for-word into the Colorado section called “Evidence Outcomes”. This was important to CDE because they want to present the same structure for all the standards be they Dance, Social Studies, Art, Music, etc.
On one hand, I think the common formatting is a good idea. Consistency across the disciplines creates continuity and coherence. I think of the elementary teachers in our district who typically teach more than one subject area. For them, it is nice to have similarly structured documents.
On the other hand, I worry that the essence of the Common Core becomes lost in translation. When I visit the Common Core website, I am offered a rich supply of supporting documents that truly enhance my understanding of what students are truly supposed to know, understand and be able to do. The December 2009 Colorado literacy and math standards were still too vague by my thinking – so I really welcome the specificity and supporting documents found at the Common Core site. I also appreciate that curriculum vendors will have an opportunity to hone their products in a discrete manner, rather than having to dilute their textbooks and materials to fit the needs of a 50 state audience. As a proponent of the national standards movement, I see many ways for us to leverage resources with our colleagues across the nation whether through the access of open source content or the increased potential of shared research.
Here’s my prediction…
All of us Colorado folk, especially district curriculum people like me, will spend a lot of time using the Colorado format to support our district implementation documents. And, we will spend a lot of time creating support structures so our teachers can use the state documents as well as district-created documents. But, eventually I think all of us in Colorado will navigate to using the national documents in their original format.
Really, how can we not do so? Are we truly going to be left out of what is already a national conversation? Are our Colorado teachers going to talk about Colorado math standard 4.1.1.a.i and New York teachers talking about Common Core standard 4.NBT.1 and not know they are talking about the same learning objective? I also wonder about our pre-service programs. Here’s a question. What are the universities going to teach their pre-service teachers? Will the University of Northern Colorado ask their students where they see themselves working after graduation and customize their instruction so that they are in alignment with their career plans. I don’t think so. If I were a university professor, I’d start teaching my pre-service teachers to teach towards the Common Core.
So, how does this affect us in our district?
The gift given to us by the State of Colorado was an opportunity to re-engage on the pathway towards becoming a true standards-based district. Standards creates a common target. We create synergy in our systems when we have those targets to work towards. Our work becomes more intentional, we can leverage it, we can retool and learn from our successes and failures and compare that to the success and learning of others.
Clear, explicit learning targets are only the base of the overall standards transformation vision we have in Thompson. It helps us answer the first question of the Teaching/Learning Cycle – What do we want our students to learn and why? These new targets help us more clearly define our learning objectives. They will help us engage in powerful conversations with each other as teachers, learners, parents and community members.
We will endeavor to create a system where curriculum and instruction is continuously refined and revised by each and every teacher on a regular basis. Where every teacher actively uses the Teaching/Learning Cycle to create standards-based units of practice that incorporate diagnostic, formative and summative assessments, evidence-based instructional strategies, pre-planned personalized learning pathways, and mechanisms for providing feedback to students and families in a comprehensive, timely fashion. We will continue to monitor how well our curriculum materials support student learning. And, we will continue to monitor our instructional skill sets and look for ways to support student learning as well.