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Common Core Playbook

Chart out winning plays and build your team's capacity this summer to push your Common Core efforts into the end zone by fall.

A great coach is one that has a vision, sets a plan in place, has the right people in place to execute that plan, and then accepts the responsibility if that plan is not carried out.
—Mike Singletary, former Chicago Bears linebacker

Is your team ready? Most students will take the first official Common Core–aligned summative assessments in spring 2015. And whether or not you think of yourself as a coach, the truth is that you are responsible for leading your team where it needs to go. Are your students ready? Is your school?

With less than a year to go before the assessments, it’s time to get serious about your game plan. The summer might seem like the off-season, but this is the time to lay the groundwork for a successful year. Use the next couple of months to build your team’s capacity and ­develop some plays.

It doesn’t matter if you’re ­currently at fourth and goal or still 20 yards away from a first down—our Common Core Playbook will help you guide your team to victory.

The Curriculum Sweep
Who you’ll need on your team: Teachers (both within and outside of your school), Department of Education resource people, Common Core specialists
How to run the play:
Gather your teachers to discuss where your school is with Common Core alignment. Don’t count on Core-aligned textbooks; publishers are still working to develop high-­quality materials. It’s better to work as a group to assess your current curriculum. What fits CCSS? What doesn’t? Where do you need to beef up the curriculum in order to help students meet the standards?

“What you need to be doing, particularly over the summer and into the fall, is pulling teams of teachers together,” says Doug Svode, director of PARCC. “They should be making decisions about what should come out of the current curriculum and locating educational resources they can use to supplement the curriculum.”

For maximum efficiency, have each team work on a different curricular area—say, math or ELA. Then plan some full-team meetings. “Allow teachers time to look at standards across subject areas,” says Carrie Heath Phillips, program director of Implementing the Common Core Standards at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). “The science and English departments might look at the standards together and create thematic units, where students read something in English class that applies to the science concepts they are learning. The standards are ripe for that kind of collaboration.”

If your team has already created a Core-aligned curriculum, use the off-season to assess which plays worked and which left you short of the goal line. Tweak your plans to emphasize your team’s strengths and to bolster weak areas. It’s perfectly okay to borrow and adapt other teams’ successful strategies.

In fact, because the standards are common, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, draw from the wealth of materials and information available online, through your state board of education, and from neighboring school districts. “In most cases, schools and school districts should be looking to partner with other schools and districts, either regionally or across the U.S.,” Svode says.

Also, if you have the funds in your budget to do so, now may be a good time to call in a curricular consultant to help your teachers develop Core-aligned curricular materials. WestEd, McREL International, and numerous other organizations have consultants who will help your staff evaluate and realign your curriculum.

The Assessment Tackle
Who you’ll need on your team: Teachers, assessment experts
How to run the play:
Under Common Core, assessment is “not just measuring content. It’s measuring the application of a skill,” says Sue Gendron, policy coordinator for Smarter Balanced. So work backward. When a team wants to get in the end zone, it systematically implements a series of plays to move closer to the goal line. The first thing your team needs to do is figure out the goal: What should students be able to do after learning a standard? What skills or knowledge must they demonstrate?

Next, think about how students will demonstrate their skills, and then design assessments that require students to produce evidence of their abilities. Yes/no, multiple-choice, and raise-your-hand-if assessments no longer cut it. Instead, students need to be able to explain by drawing, writing, or speaking how they got their answer.

Use CCSS-aligned assessment items as guidelines. PARCC and Smarter Balanced have a host of sample items on their websites. The Florida Center for Research in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology at Florida State University has also released a collection of formative assessment tasks and rubrics covering each of the Common Core State Mathematics Standards in grades K–3. The Louisiana Department of Education sends out a sample test question every day. (In March, Florida state leaders decided not to use the PARCC exam, but rather to develop their own test aligned with their revised version of the Common Core standards.)

This is a whole new way of thinking about assessment, so provide your teachers with support. Invite assessment experts to your school and/or schedule ­assessment-focused professional development.

The PD Punt
Who you’ll need on your team: Teachers, administrators, expert educators
How to run the play:
Professional development is the key to successful implementation of the Common Core, just as expert coaching is critical to the success of a team.

Give your teachers as much PD time as possible. “It’s important for teachers to be in their classrooms with students, but if a teacher doesn’t have the content knowledge to be able to teach mathematics well, it makes sense for administrators to provide time [for teachers] to learn more about the underlying math concepts,” says Pat Fitzsimmons, a member of Vermont’s Agency of Education Common Core team. “Think about providing professional development opportunities during the school day so you can ensure, for instance, that all fourth-grade teachers have a certain level of math content knowledge.”

Whenever possible, give teachers time to observe other educators teaching Common Core–based lessons. Appoint or hire expert teachers or mentors to provide feedback as teachers implement new teaching and assessment strategies. If that’s not possible, it’s up to you to visit classrooms and to provide feedback and support.

Direct your teachers to PD opportunities available in your state and online. Achieve the Core has a collection of free PD materials, courses, and resources (

The Tech Scramble
Who you’ll need on your team: Teachers, director of technology, administrators, school board members
How to run the play:
First, check your school’s tech readiness. The Core-aligned assessments will be administered ­digitally, so you need to make sure your school has enough computers and bandwidth. Have your director of tech check out the technology readiness tools at PARCC or Smarter Balanced (or the tech requirements of whatever assessment your school will be using). If you find you have gaps—lack of adequate bandwidth, too few devices—work with your administrative team, director of technology, and, possibly, school board to acquire the necessary resources.

Meanwhile, have your teachers beef up digital instruction aligned with the standards. “Students need to have practice and familiarity with using computers so that when they come to the test, they’re not distracted by how to use a mouse,” the CCSSO’s Phillips says. Today’s students have widely varying levels of tech literacy, so encourage teachers to individually assess and support students’ technological skills. Some students are adept at touch screens, but they may need to work on keyboarding and mouse skills. Because the assessments will take place online, students of all ages should regularly practice writing on the computer.

Give students who have limited access to technology extra tech time at school, and create a system to allow them to check out devices for homework and further practice.

The Communication Blitz
Who you’ll need on your team: Teachers, administrators, school board members, local businesspeople, students
How to run the play:
Parents and community members need to know what the Common Core is and why it’s important. Block inaccurate information with a communication blitz. “Have a communication plan,” Gendron advises. “School boards, principals, superintendents—everybody—need to know who their targets are, and they need to have some common messages.”

“School boards need to set the stage as leaders,” Gendron continues. “They need to let their communities know that we are raising the bar, and that as we raise the bar, scores are going to dip, and that’s okay. School board members and school administrators should also know about the economic situation in their state. What are the future jobs? They can frame the discussion by talking about the economic drivers in the state: Here are the types of jobs that will be available, and here are the skills students will need.”

Reaching out to local business leaders is also important. When they understand how the Core develops career readiness, they may provide key support.

Parents are obviously major stakeholders, too. A social media post about a poorly written Common Core math problem sent many parents into a tizzy this spring.

Combat misinformation by including Common Core in your orientation and back-to-school-night planning. Some schools have set up stations during open house; parents and kids rotate to various stations to experience Core-aligned math, writing, and reading ­activities. Other districts are hosting “parent universities” for caregivers to learn about Common Core lessons. And to reach parents who can’t come to in-school events, districts are creating online videos to demonstrate the skills that students learn in class. During the school year, teachers can keep parents informed via newsletters and at parent–teacher conferences. Identify the “big ideas” at each grade level and, most important, keep communications positive and upbeat. In doing so, your team can achieve great things.    

Summer 2014—

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