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Notes from The Common Core Learning Standards: Integrating the Language of the Standards in OST Programs March 20, 2014 Networking Meeting

Apr 28, 2014  Suzanne Marten

Anne Lawrence, program officer of the Robert Bowne Foundation, welcomed participants to this third Networking meeting related to the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).  She noted that the previous two Networking meetings in October 2013 and January 2014 had been well received. OST programs were eager to think about what these new Standards might mean for them. The meetings’ participants found much that they do at their OST programs is aligned with the CCLS. They do not need to change their mission or vision of their programs to be aligned with the CCLS. The March meeting was used to think about the language of the CCLS and how we incorporate that language to communicate what we do in OST programs to a variety of audiences and stakeholders.

A brief overview of the Common Core Standards

Suzanne Marten, facilitator from the Center for Educational Options, provided a brief overview of the Common Core Learning Standards. They were originally developed by a nation-wide panel of governors and chief state school officers in response to No Child Left Behind legislation.  They were developed to ensure that all children are, what is now referred to as, “college and career ready.”  Over time these standards were articulated from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade.  The original focus was on English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, but the intention is for the standards to span Science and History/Social Studies as well.  Though the standards are national, each state adopted them and New York State tweaked the language in a few places and adopted them as the Common Core Learning Standards or CCLS.

The CCLS should be understood in the context of current developments in education.  The CCLS are standards that can stand on their own.  The CCLS are NOT a curriculum, however there are curriculum materials that are being developed and marketed as CCLS curriculum.  There is also a demand both locally and nationally for assessment of achievement of the CCLS.  Standardized tests are rapidly being created and implemented.  The standardized tests that NYC children in 3rd-8th grades took last spring were supposed to be aligned with the CCLS.  These tests are new and have not been piloted. There are many concerns both about the structure of the tests and if they really measured the CCLS.  The CCLS are written in a way that is comprehensive and represents much of what we hope children will achieve over the course of their academic career.   

When looking over the standards Networking meeting participants noticed that the ELA CCLS range from Pre-K through 12th grade and are in sections according to age of students, Pre-K-5th grade, 6th-8th grade, and 9th-12th grade: Writing, Reading Literature, Reading Informational Text, Speaking and Listening, and for elementary programs Reading Foundations. They saw that the standards are written so that you can trace one standard from the earliest ages right through to the end of high school with each successive grade level representing a more complex understanding and ability of the same skill set.  Participants also remarked that the standards had parallels in reading and writing if the standards were read down through all those describing a grade’s expectations.  Since the CCLS are not a curriculum, there is latitude as to the materials that could be used to work on the standards.  Though the language could be dense, participants quickly saw how that language could be broken down and connected to the work they are already doing with young people.     

Integrating the Language of the CCLS:  Examples of thinking, questions and work from Arts and Literacy and Fiver Children’s Foundation

The use of the CCLS in OST programs is a work in progress. It is developing with the thoughtful questioning and experimenting of those in the field. Laura Paris, from the Arts and Literacy Program of the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services, and Leah Reitz, from the Fiver Children’s Foundation, both presented their thinking about and work on using the language of the CCLS as is appropriate to the work of their OST programs. 

Laura talked about learning of the CCLS and having to first think about them in the context of completing an Request For Proposals for Department of Youth and Community Development.  As such new and unknown requirements often do, the CCLS provoked some anxiety, but Laura decided to take a deep breath and explore them through the lens of what Arts and Literacy already does.  The goal of Arts and Literacy, to build critical thinking through the arts, seemed to be in line with the overall goals of the Standards. Laura knew that her young people were doing a lot of reading, writing  and speaking and listening through all their arts projects.  For example, in a 6-week arts rotation a group might be reading and/or writing and performing a play.  Or a dance class might be working to write down the moves or choreography the group is planning. She then looked at what DYCD was asking for and found CCLS language that she could use to describe what Arts and Literacy was already doing. 

Next, she spoke about her thinking on how to explain what Arts and Literacy does to a variety of audiences such as families, community members, and the schools they work with and in.  As participants had already noted, the language of the CCLS can be dense and very academic; this is not the best language for families or for community members to really understand what children Arts and Literacy is accomplishing.  Laura began to brainstorm how to translate CCLS language into more everyday language as the attached CHFS English Language Arts and Literacy Core Competencies in Projects chart shows.    

Laura pointed out that it was critical for staff to be engaged in knowing both about the CCLS and the translations as they were often the frontline of communications, especially with families.  And as there has been a fair amount of anxiety raised by the CCLS, most specifically the tests, such tools could be useful in communicating with and diffusing the anxiety of staff, families and children.  One of the borough coordinators from Arts and Literacy, Jodi Connelly, noted that she could now easily look at the middle school program and identify where they were touching on CCLS and use the language to explain. 

The discussion about language for speaking to schools opened up an interest amongst participants in how Arts and Literacy communicates with the schools they work with.  Arts and Literacy staff briefly explained that their structure is based on 6 week cycles of arts programs in which there is built in time for their homework teachers (known as Homework Warriors at Arts and Literacy) to talk to school day teachers about individual children.  The homework teachers had built rapport and communication to the point that several day school teachers are staying for homework time with Arts and Literacy. 

Leah Reitz, from Fiver Children’s Foundation, shared their Theory of Change as a starting point for her thinking about CCLS.  She noted that the mission of Fiver Children’s Foundation is character development beginning with their participants at 8 years old through 18 years old.  They are focused on the whole child and not just academic development as framed by the CCLS.  (See attached Fiver Theory of Change Narrative and Pathways.)

Many elements on the Fiver Children’s Foundation Theory of Change chart, at first glance, look very different than what is in the CCLS.  Leah wanted to consider first what Fiver does that might be CCLS aligned even though it may not be using the language of the Standards. She is especially interested in doing this to describe Fiver’s work to funders. Working with her staff, they began to see where there were many points of connection in its school-year programing and in the summer camp work with young people.  Then she considered ways of articulating what they do using CCLS language without compromising the mission of the organization.  She is picking and choosing which CCLS standards are best aligned with what Fiver Children’s Foundation does. Then she is selecting language that could describe that work to funders that show the connections to academic growth and development.  This question of choice, as Leah phrased it “What do we leverage?”, seems very important to keep in mind as OST programs work to adapt or incorporate CCLS language without losing sight of their organization’s mission or the purpose of OST programs more generally.

Adopting the Language of CCLS   

In small groups the participants in the Networking meeting were then invited to share what questions they were pondering and what ideas they had for how to think about or use the language of the CCLS for their OST program.  These discussions were rich and produced some ideas as well as some additional questions.

Ideas on incorporating the CCLS language in OST programs:

The CCLS language is dense and can feel intimidating (as many noted at our previous Networking meetings). Breaking that language down is a useful exercise and the first step in being able to use them meaningfully.  

  • Line staff have a range of educational experience and training; they need exposure and encouragement to feel comfortable with the CCLS language and concepts.  CCLS translations (like the Arts and Literacy chart) could be used as a basis for discussion and staff development. 
  • Having staff look at the CCLS to highlight what they WANT to address and what they DO NOT WANT to address could guide planning; Leah’s idea of choice is important here.
  • Educational coordinators may be in a position to mediate and work with staff on the more academic ideas of the CCLS but also make them understandable to line staff.
  • The Speaking and Listening section of the CCLS is not being addressed so clearly at school and is easily aligned with much of what OST programs do; this is a clear connection.
  • Families are concerned with their children succeeding on the standardized tests; translating the language of CCLS and connecting it to what OST programs do can help allay their concerns.  Hands on workshops in which families get to first experience something that their children might do in afterschool and then connecting that learning to the CCLS could bring home the ideas in a concrete way.
  • Theatre, music and other afterschool activities are not explicitly valued in the CCLS and yet there are language and literacy standards that are touched on through doing the arts and other afterschool themes.  In addition, these disciplines can support youth in managing the emotions that go with doing new and challenging work that could also support them in test-taking strategies.  

Good questions continued to be raised about how we can:

  •   continue to familiarize ourselves with the CCLS and adopt or adapt the language where it is useful to making connections between the mission of your OST program and academic development; 
  • support staff to use CCLS for planning, work with children, and in communicating with families, but don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated by them;
  • support families in understanding the CCLS and how OST programming is supporting their children, including resources on CCLS in different languages;
  • continue to make choices in how and when we use the CCLS. 

Our work with the CCLS is a work in progress and all agreed that the discussions need to continue both within our programs, with staff and families and amongst ourselves. We need to learn and question each other as we strive to maintain our commitment to the mission and goals of OST programs and using the CCLS as a tool to support where appropriate. 

Next Steps

In addition to continuing the discussion about CCLS internally and across programs, accessing resources can be useful, though not without issues as we experienced in the Networking meeting.  Viewing a short video on the CCLS (http://www.achievethecore.org/dashboard/409/search/3/1/0/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12) intended for families, participants were struck by what a marketing piece it was, designed to convince us all that the CCLS were the answer to what ails education in this country.  However, we also noted that it was important to know what resources were out there and think about some of the useful bits, like the staircase of achievement that could help stakeholders understand the developmental nature of the Standards. 

New Resources:

Here are some resources compiled by Sally Wade of the Family Engagement Resource Providers (FERP) project:

  1. Achieve The Core- Parent and Community Resources: Introducing the Common Core to Parents and Community Members, Parents Guides by Grade Level, Common Core Videos for Parents http://www.achievethecore.org/dashboard/409/search/3/1/0/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12
  2.  Council of Great City Schools – Parent Roadmaps for Common Core State Standards http://www.cgcs.org/domain/36
  1. Education Northwest – Spotlight on CCSS- What Do Parents Need to Know http://educationnorthwest.org/resource/1547 English/Spanish
  1. engageNY- CCSS Shifts for Parents and Students http://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/shifts-for-students-and-parents.pdf  English/ Spanish/ Arabic/ Bengali/ Haitian Creole 
  1. National PTA – Parents Guide to student Success http://pta.org/parents/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2583 English/Spanish

Over the course of the first meeting several important resources were noted and are included here again:

  1. - this website is a valuable link not only to the CCLS themselves but also to lesson plans and information about the connections to standardized tests, just as a point of reference. 
  2. - this website provides kid-friendly standards for K to 2nd grade. 

Look for an announcement from Anne Lawrence about the next Networking Meeting on May 15, 2014.  We anticipate that The LAMP, an OST program that works on media literacy, will present work that is related to the CCLS and participants will be able to think and network around these ideas.