Standards Implementation in California: What Have We Learned?

by Reino Makkonen

Over the past year WestEd has been helping the California State Board of Education learn more about implementation of the state’s standards and associated supports. Our team has surveyed and interviewed teachers as well as school and district leaders, gathered information from our WestEd colleagues who work with California schools and districts and with state department of education officials, and reviewed other relevant research.

Many instructional shifts are being expected under the Common Core State Standards, which California adopted in 2010. And one of the main things we’re learning — which is guiding our work into 2017 — is that teachers need time to collaborate, examine and discuss classroom instruction, and learn together (see our presentation to the California State Board). Time is a rare and precious resource in schools, so creating space for teacher collaboration can be challenging.  

Despite challenges, California’s schools and districts are facilitating job-embedded, standards-driven, collaborative learning in various ways. For example, some hold instructional rounds or walkthroughs, or provide more coaching opportunities, or are refocusing professional learning communities on lesson study or on the analysis of student work (in particular examining how students construct arguments and support their claims). We’re also learning that teachers who express a sense of being supported to implement the new standards are often those who have recently been coached or mentored or have recently observed or been observed by peer teachers.

As an instructional coach emphasized during a focus group, “The strength of job-embedded coaching is that it’s built into the day, so we don’t have to try and put something else aside. That’s the embedded part. As far as the coaching piece of it goes, no matter if they’re a beginning teacher or an experienced teacher, everyone can use a little coaching. We use the example all the time about Michael Jordan — once he became a professional it wasn’t that he no longer needed a coach, he actually needed a coach even more.”

With California’s schools and districts implementing standards in different ways and on different timelines, we will continue to learn about how schools are supporting teacher collaboration and standards-driven instructional shifts. Stay tuned for more in 2017!

Senior Policy Associate, WestEd