How to prepare for Common Core testing—and why current teacher evaluation systems won’t help

To prepare for the rigor of Common Core testing, school districts must engage teachers in sustained, in-depth professional development.

To prepare for more rigorous assessments aligned with the Common Core standards, teachers will need more time and opportunities to collaborate with each other, education professor Linda Darling-Hammond told superintendents at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education Feb. 22.

But she also warned that using value-added models to rank and evaluate teachers—a practice that is spreading among school districts nationwide—has the potential to impede this work, thereby hindering students’ readiness for Common Core testing.

Darling-Hammond, who is a nationally recognized authority on school reform and teacher quality, is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University.

She told AASA conference attendees that the new Common Core assessments to be given in 45 states and the District of Columbia beginning in 2014 are more demanding than what students are used to, and they’ll require a commitment to intense professional development on the part of school systems to make sure teachers—and their students—are prepared.

Two multi-state consortia, the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, are developing next-generation assessments aligned with the Common Core standards, and students will take the tests online. To illustrate the level of rigor involved, Darling-Hammond cited a sample question from the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

In the example, students are told to pretend they are the chief of staff for a congresswoman in their state. A power company is proposing to build a nuclear plant in the state, and the congresswoman wants to know how she should vote. Students are asked to search the web for information, find three arguments for and three against the use of nuclear power, evaluate these arguments, and then write a position statement either favoring or opposing the plan—using evidence to support their position.

Consider the skills that are being tested here: internet literacy (the ability to find information online and evaluate its credibility), writing, and critical thinking, for starters.

To prepare for the rigor of these exams, school districts must engage teachers in sustained, in-depth professional development, Darling-Hammond said. She said research suggests the right kind of professional development can increase student performance by up to 20 percent—but “drive-by, one-off workshops” have been shown to have no effect on achievement.

(Next page: What high-quality professional development looks like)

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Dennis Pierce

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