I attended a professional development workshop today that focused on creating learning communities.  The entire group jig-sawed an article by Rick Dufour entitled: "What is a 'Professional Learning Community?"  After sharing the 3 big ideas in the article the participants broke up into elementary, middle and high school groups to work on backward mapping the standards needed to be mastered for the state assessments and end-of-course exams, including the formative assessments along the way.  I have been pondering a single question ever since the state adoption of the new common core standards and was reminded of it today.  What if learning communities are successfully created, teacher performance improves, test scores rise and the achievement gap closes, and there is still no appreciable change in college and career readiness?  This is the question that lurks behind the ACT Research as described in "Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the HIgh School Curriculum." On p. 2 of the Executive Summary of the research the authors state:

"ACT data suggest that the nation’s high school students are not ready for college-level reading. But ACT data also show that, while it is important for students to be able to comprehend both explicit and implicit material in texts, as well as to understand how various textual elements (such as main ideas, relationships, or generalizations) function in a text, the clearest differentiator in reading between students who are college ready and students who are not is the ability to comprehend complex texts."

College and career readiness is largely a function of critical reading and writing skills.  A very large disconnect exists between the various standards.  The teaching standards focus on what teachers do and is primarily the instrument used to evaluate teachers. Consequently, there is undue pressure on teachers to perform, to become the major actor in their classrooms, and supervisors are trained to observe for and evaluate such teacher behaviors.  The content standards focus on what students know and can do.  A knowledge base may increase and test scores may rise commensurately, but student skill level is largely unmeasured.  The new common core standards focus on how students come to know what they know.  They not only focus on what a student knows and can do, but also on how the student acquires such knowledge.  These new standards are text-based.  Although the teacher still takes the lead in managing his students, motivating their learning and assessing their progress, the writer takes an increasing lead in the learning process as the teacher moves to the side and facilitates.  A great deal of re-training needs to take place for teachers to embrace this new role and for administrators to be able to evaluate it.  This is the next rich area for professional development, as 35 states move to implement this new adoption.

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