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Dips in the Road Ahead?

Anticipating inevitable rough patches can make for a smoother Core transition.

With the shift to Common Core in full swing, analysts warn that state and district education leaders should be prepared for "implementation dips" that accompany systemic change.

All schools encounter "a dip in performance and confidence" as they move forward with innovation that requires new skills and understandings, wrote education reformer Michael Fullan in Leading in a Culture of Change, his widely read 2001 book.

Such temporary setbacks should be expected with CCSS, says Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank. "It would be foolish to pretend you can completely protect a school or district from some kind of an implementation dip," she says. "It's inevitable, but with a lot of hard work, strategic planning, and good messaging, you can minimize it."

School leaders will need to reassure parents as well as teachers who feel threatened by Common Core changes, Porter-Magee explains. "Parents will say, ‘Last year my child was proficient, and this year [she is] below basic. What happened?' Schools will need to thoughtfully align curriculum and instruction, and not just teach test-prep strategies" to temporarily offset a performance dip, she says. "We need to be on a long-term path to teaching kids."

Another area of concern to teachers—coincidental with the implementation of CCSS—is the increasing focus on merit pay, which has taken hold in 42 states, according to the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. With the pay of so many based in part on standardized test scores, teachers worry that they will be judged harshly if their students don't measure up under the new standards.

Eric Lerum, of Students First, Michelle Rhee's education advocacy organization, says this may not be a concern. "District leaders can account for fluctuations in scores, because what they are looking at is where students start and where they end. They should be able to translate what those scores are from one system to another."

Porter-Magee adds, "The phasing in of new teacher evaluation systems and the Common Core can be done in concert. Many plans ask teachers to be part of the goal-setting process. If everybody is knowledgeable, Common Core doesn't have to hold teachers accountable unfairly."

—Late Fall 2012—

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