Three Keys to Kentucky’s Common Core Success
Fall 2015 marks a major milestone for Common Core implementation. By that time, every compliant state will have gone through at least one round of assessments, and with scores finally available, critics and proponents alike will have plenty to talk about. And while this marks a new frontier for most, there are a few states that launched the Common Core years ago. Their stories, more than ever, are worth telling as they can provide lessons for those in the nascent stages of implementation.
Perhaps the best object lesson in Common Core implementation is in the state of Kentucky. As the very first state to integrate the Core, Kentucky has been learning valuable lessons for years and has a growing track of record of success. Apart from an expected first year dip, educators in the state have managed to bring up test scores almost across the board.
How have they done it? At a high level, Kentucky's success can be narrowed down to three key elements:
In Kentucky, unlike in many states, the decision to implement the Common Core came not only from the governor and state education office, but from the state legislature as well. This might be the most critical element in accounting for Kentucky’s Common Core success. Because of the General Assembly’s support from the beginning, implementation in Kentucky was marked by nearly universal buy-in that few other states have enjoyed.
What’s more, the state’s implementation plan included clear communication of the General Assembly’s vision to every educator in the state, as well as other stakeholders—with the opportunity to provide feedback in standards development. “We felt it was very important to involve teachers very early,” said Terry Holladay, Kentucky’s commissioner of education, “so we had lots of teachers [who] were engaged while the Common Core standards were being developed.”
Another key to Kentucky’s Common Core success was the formation of cross-district “leadership networks” to work on the alignment of standards and curriculum.
To build the capacity for integrating the standards within each district, Kentucky created leadership networks consisting of 20 to 25 district teams, with each district team made up of three to four professionals from each of the following groups: teacher leaders in ELA, teacher leaders in math, school-level leaders, and district-level leaders.
Leadership network meetings were organized by content area, with separate meetings held for ELA and math. To make sure the standards were implemented with fidelity in every school, these meetings were facilitated by university professors and other content specialists with expertise in math and ELA, who asked the teams to translate, pace, and sequence the Common Core standards for their districts—all under their expert guidance.
Conversations about the standards didn’t stop with these district leadership teams; they were an important part of the work at each school as well. Finding time for these conversations was a key challenge for school leaders, and many took creative approaches to make this happen.
To make sure educators received ongoing, on-demand training, the Kentucky Department of Education developed the Continual Instructional Improvement Technology System, or CIITS—an online repository containing thousands of resources to help with Common Core implementation. Through CIITS, Kentucky educators have 24/7 access to thousands of professional learning resources from School Improvement Network and other providers.
Communicating a common vision, creating cross-district leadership teams to align the standards with content, and supporting teachers as they work to integrate the standards into their instruction—these are some of the key lessons that states and school systems can learn from Kentucky’s Common Core success. You can download the whitepaper on Kentucky’s Common Core success by clicking here.