State CCSS implementation plans: Washington, DC

Winning RTT states got a lot of points for promising to adopt CCSS and implement the standards by adopting some fairly bold reforms. Now the rubber meets the road and it's time to look at whether states are beginning to do what they promised. (And, perhaps, to evaluate whether those promises made any sense in the first place.) To that end, I have begun to read the RTT applications from the winning states, beginning with DC. My plan is to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of each state's implementation plan and eventually to track how states are progressing against their own implementation goals.

Washington, DC

Overview

I think that I may have started by reading the gold standard CCSS implementation plan because the District's RTT application outlines a plan that is as thoughtful as it is comprehensive. States and districts that are looking for smart CCSS implementation advice would do well to read and adapt DC's plan.

Strengths

There are essentially three areas of the RTT application that deal directly with CCSS implementation: standards and assessment, data, and great teachers and leaders. What impressed me most about DC's plan was how well integrated these areas were. It seems clear that the ?state? officials had a unified and clear theory of action and aligned all elements of their reform plan around particular goals. Even better, they are clearly using assessment and data as the driving force behind CCSS implementation. To that end, DC plans:

  • To adopt a statewide summative assessment in 2011-2012, even though the PARRC assessment isn't coming out with the consortium assessment until 2014.
  • To require all schools to implement interim assessments 6-8 times a year to track student mastery of standards.
  • To use data from the summative and interim assessments to identify teacher-specific and school- and district-wide professional development priorities.
  • To centrally track and use data to evaluate the impact of specific professional development and to make decisions about which programs to continue and which to cut.
  • To use data about student growth as 50 percent of the teacher evaluation system.
  • To use data to track the effectiveness of certification and licensure programs.

This focus on assessment and data is especially noteworthy. I fear that too many states start first with reimagining inputs, such as curriculum and professional development, before clearly defining the outcomes students and teachers will ultimately need to achieve. While that might sound sensible, from the state (or, in this case, district) level, assessment is the most powerful lever that officials have to impact curriculum, instruction, and student achievement. (Yes, it does put additional pressure on getting the assessment piece right, but that's important regardless. States simply must get assessment right.)

What's more, while DC requires all schools to use interim assessments to track student mastery approximately six times each year, they do not require all schools to use the same interim assessments. That means that schools are free to follow different scope and sequences, which means that teachers and school leaders can really tailor curriculum and pedagogy to meet the needs of particular students.

On the professional development side, there were three things that stood out about the District's plan:

  1. Professional development was going to be targeted at creating strong, data-driven instruction at each school.
  2. The quality of ALL professional development (school-site and district-wide) was going to be tracked and professional development decisions were going to be data-driven. (i.e.: poor quality PD providers were not going to be invited back.)
  3. District officials seemed to understand that the single most important professional development that teachers can receive is targeted, ongoing observation and feedback in the classroom. (To that end, the plan directs money to hiring instructional coaches for each school. Coaches whose effectiveness will be tracked using qualitative and quantitative data.)

All of that is to say that DC's CCSS implementation plans are impressive.

Weaknesses

There were of course a few things that stood out as concerns, but they were few and fairly minor. The biggest was the amount of money that was being spent on professional development platforms and data evaluation systems. High-tech solutions are only as good as the habits they support. And, while DC's plan suggests that district officials are trying to establish those habits, it can be dangerous to lead with costly technology because, once such platforms are built, they can be hard to customize. It might be better to establish the habits first, and then tailor the technology solutions to meet the needs of the teachers who will use them.

Conclusion

Obviously, DC is unique because, while technically a state for the purposes of Race to the Top, they are no bigger than a typical urban district. Most states will have to grapple more directly with what parts of CCSS implementation should be housed in state departments of ed and which should be devolved to the district or the school level. (Though it's worth reiterating that, even though DC is the size of a district, officials did devolve questions about scope, sequence, formative assessment, and curriculum to the school level.) That said, for states and districts looking to learn more about what CCSS implementation should look like, DC's application might be a good place to start.

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