That help comes from something called “the hub,” where teachers can access the curriculum and administrators have placed sample lesson plans to guide them. Eventually, said Kay Sammons, coordinator of elementary mathematics, teachers will be able to share their own lesson plans with teachers across the county.
But teachers not being given enough professional development in the Common Core is a concern for some Board of Education members.
“The problem is that the devil is in the details,” said board member Cindy Vaillancourt. “In theory, having a standardized group of things that students across the country are expected to know at the same time is good, but implementing a new curriculum a few weeks before school starts, in the case of some teachers, and expecting them to have lesson plans to give kids is not realistic. We basically threw out everything that we were already doing and replaced it with something that’s half-baked, and that creates a disconnect.”
‘Only time will tell’
Staggered implementation of the Common Core standards among different grade levels over the past few years was designed to eliminate that disconnect, Sammons said.
Still, the system hasn’t “seen where the kinks are in the armor yet,” said board member Giles.
A concern among board members, too, was the lack of input local school systems had in adopting the standards.
“We were being dictated to by the state and federal government as usual,” said board member Ann De Lacy. “Teachers are doing the best they can to implement something that was imposed — just like No Child Left Behind was imposed. I agree with the concept (of the Common Core), but Common Core and the PARCC assessment (the new test that will replace the Maryland School Assessment) bother me because we’re still going to be teaching to the test.”
Testing changes are another “awkward” result of implementing the new standards, Aquino said.
“From a standpoint of local control, we really haven’t been part of the process, and that’s an issue,” he said. “But right now, Common Core isn’t aligned with the assessment we’re currently giving so in certain cases, student are being tested on material they might not have covered in class.”
The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) test isn’t being officially rolled out until the 2014-15 school year. But Howard is field-testing the PARCC this spring (student scores won’t count) and MSAs will be administered for the last time this spring.
“It’s patently unfair to students to teach them for one test but test another,” said Vice Chairman Brian Meshkin. “It’s more unfair to teachers and administrators to hold them accountable to the test they’re not teaching toward anymore."
As part of Race to the Top, teachers and school administrators are now more responsible for students’ learning than ever before. For example, in Howard County 10-20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on how well their students do on the standardized test. For teachers who don’t directly deal with assessed content areas, 50 percent of their evaluation is based on student growth — benchmarks determined by the teacher and their principal. Student growth is also used to evaluate teachers who teach assessed content areas — up to 30 percent.
“I don’t see any significant drawbacks to Common Core itself, but everyone knows how I feel about standardized testing,” Lemle said. “The linkage of tests to teacher evaluations is going to have terrible outcomes. ... If you had asked anyone 10 years ago, how do you feel about a set of standards that will level the playing field across the country, prepare everyone equally for college and career, they would have said it’s a good idea. It’s a shame the teacher-evaluation timeline was tied to Common Core.”
It will be years before anyone can tell if Common Core produces the results everyone hopes for, Lemle said.
And Aquino, who believes the premise of the Common Core is sound, agreed, saying it's going to take time.
"I think in the end, if we give it a chance, the Common Core is supposed to deliver skills to students starting at an earlier age that will prepare them for the 21st century," he said. "Is it better or worse than before? Only time will tell."