Improving the Dynamics of Classroom Instruction in Response to the Common Core

by Alberto Heredia; Frances Reade; Rebecca Perry

Oct 15, 2018

Over the last few years, WestEd has conducted a survey of mathematics educators in the 10 Math in Common districts, asking a wide range of questions about their beliefs and efforts toward implementing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M). In our review of teacher and administrator survey findings from 2016 through 2018,1 we see educators' steadily increasing levels of confidence and feelings of support for making the serious changes required by the CCSS-M.

With several years of implementation efforts behind us, districts and policymakers across the state are wondering how best to understand the effects that these efforts are having in classrooms. Because deep reform efforts like the CCSS-M tend to require years of incremental progress toward a shared goal for changed instruction, the changes in teaching and learning can be difficult to measure. In analyzing the results of the 2018 survey, we wondered in particular what the responses could tell us about teachers' changing beliefs about the standards and their sense of readiness to implement them, since research tells us that beliefs can serve as indicators for teachers' instructional choices in the classroom.

We looked more closely at teachers' beliefs about the following: CCSS-M-aligned instruction, their administrators' capacity to lead their sites in implementation, and several professional development structures that aim to support changes to the dynamics of classroom instruction. We also examined administrators' feelings about their own preparation to lead CCSS-M implementation at their sites. To learn more about variation within the population of teachers, we further broke down some responses according to teachers' professional experience levels. We found that teachers of different experience levels responded differently to some prompts about their confidence in shifting their instruction to align with the CCSS-M, and they valued some professional development structures differently.

The findings suggest two main takeaways for school district staff supporting their educators:

- Stay the course. MiC districts have moved toward professional learning supports for teachers and principals that are tied closely to shifts in classroom instruction and teachers' everyday practices -- what we like to call "the dynamics of classroom instruction." Often these models are based in classrooms and school sites, instead of offered at the central office. Positive responses from teachers and administrators about their professional learning supports show that this is likely the right professional learning approach to continue (and a model districts can look to as they begin implementing the Next Generation Science Standards).

- Deepen work that has been started. Teachers and principals are feeling comfortable and confident with what they've learned so far. This is a great indication that they are ready to go deeper and take on new challenges around CCSS-M instruction.

In the responses of all of these groups (teachers, teachers and principals, and new and experienced teachers), we find a wealth of information that confirms for us that MiC districts are right to focus on implementing new standards through changes to the dynamics of classroom instruction. The slow and steady improvements to teacher and principal confidence and feeling of preparation over the years of the survey should be taken as evidence that although progress may feel slow, MiC districts are on the right path.