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A Path of Progress: When Teachers Collaborate, Students Succeed

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The adoption of the Common Core State Standards by a majority of states marked a historic increase in learning expectations for students and a shift in the way we measure their progress. Unfortunately, despite the exceptional work states have done to build on and support higher academic standards, stories of successful implementation have often been drowned out by attempts to politicize public education.

A recent report from the Council of the Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), A Path of Progress, shines light on positive stories of states across the country that are working diligently alongside teachers to implement the standards.

More than 50 state and local education agencies around the nation contributed to the report by participating in interviews focused on implementation of the standards. The report emphasizes that implementing academic standards takes time and is complicated by the fact that too often, high-quality curricular resources have not been available to teachers. Instead, many schools and districts have developed their own materials aligned to the standards, which requires collaboration between districts and states and the need to transform teacher professional learning.

Despite these challenges of implementation, many states and school districts have diligently sought out success for their teachers and students. For example, as the Pearl City/Waipahu school district in Hawaii began the transition to higher standards, administrators noticed that students were struggling with algebra. They created a Math Core Group, consisting of math teachers from the district, to make sure kids were fully understanding concepts and succeeding in algebra.

So far, the results have been impressive. Since starting an algebra-preparedness track developed by the Math Core Group, the number of students prepared to take 8th grade and high school algebra classes has quadrupled, and there have been promising gains in success rates. “Students are doing well and it validates the work we’re doing together as a team, working our way up to put the standards in place,” said Alison Ota, a mathematics resource teacher in the Pearl City/Waipahu district.

In North Dakota, early professional development was a key component of successful implementation. The state’s Department of Public Instruction immediately began working with stakeholders to provide training and support to teachers. Last year, in a project sponsored by CCSSO, teachers in North Dakota joined with teachers in South Dakota, Montana, and Iowa to collaborate and share Common Core math resources.

This renewed focus on collaboration helped North Dakota develop effective, ongoing professional development for educators to support them in improving their instructional strategies. More importantly, it opened new doors for students to excel. “Teachers believe the research of what the best practice is for math and they are seeing the benefits in their students’ work,” said Beth Slette, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education.

For states across the country, engaging teachers early and throughout the process of implementing high standards has been a key to success. The stories chronicled in A Path of Progress reflect the importance of ensuring that teachers have access to collaborative professional learning, paired with high-quality tools and resources, to help students reach their full potential under the Common Core.

Read about more positive work happening in states like Hawaii and North Dakota here.