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Chicago: Loving the Core

An elementary school bucks the trend, credits improvement to Core adoption.

Philip D. Armour Elementary School in Chicago may be the poster child for how to successfully implement Common Core into everyday school work, but that doesn’t mean transition was easy. Three years after the process began, Principal Shelley Cordova says the standards are driving creative teaching and a deep student understanding.

“We didn’t come in and say, ‘Here are the Common Core standards—teach them,’ ” Cordova says. “We broke it down.”

During the first year, that meant comparing the Core with Illinois’s existing standards and making sure that teachers understood exactly what the changes were. Teachers were expected to use the resources they had, like basal readers and educational magazines, to organize instruction around the new standards. Full implementation didn’t happen until the second year, when school officials purchased new ­reading resources based on teachers’ unit plans.

Now in their third year with the new standards, Armour is focused on implementing them across content areas like science and social studies. “It’s a process,” says Cordova. “You can’t do it all at once.”

That patience has paid off. Reading scores at the school are improving, and previously hesitant staffers have embraced the Common Core.

“Sometimes we don’t give teachers the ability to be creative, so when they were given that ability, they were a little unsure about the process, because it’s always been a little more scripted for them,” Cordova says.

“It was a completely different way of teaching,” says Armour teacher Leslie Roach, a self-described “biggest complainer” about the standards when they were introduced. “Now I look at it as, it’s kind of nice to not be tied down to having to teach in a certain way or use certain books.”

Antonella D’Acquisto, a literacy coach at the school, says the impact of the new standards has shown up in the classroom, not just on standardized tests. Students are able to offer opinions and arguments about what they’ve read, rather than simply serve up answers to basic comprehension questions.

“Now it’s more multiple readings of the same text, looking for deeper meanings and different levels of meaning,” D’Acquisto says.

Armour students have yet to take standardized tests specifically aligned to the standards. But Cordova isn’t worried: “If we continue the way we’re going, I’m confident the students are going to do very well.”

—Summer 2013—

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