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Tick Tock 

State's assistance on timely local implementation questioned

With revolutionary Common Core assessments scheduled to be administered throughout California in 2014—tests that have yet to be finalized—some critics are questioning whether the state is doing enough to help county offices of education and school districts make the fundamental and complex changes necessary.

Education Trust—West, a nonprofit education advocacy group based in Oakland, issued a December 2012 report, “Catching up to the Core: Common Sense Strategies for Accelerating Access to the Common Core in California.” It charges that state education officials have largely left schools and districts on their own to figure out how to expand technological capacity, train teachers, find aligned curricular material and prepare parents and other members of the public for the big changes ahead.

Ed Trust Executive Director Arun Ramanathan, a great believer in the Common Core, says he has been “bitterly disappointed” by the state’s efforts to support districts and schools thus far.

“Although momentum has begun to increase,” he says, “the CDE has been slow to engage meaningfully in implementation efforts that prepare educators for the instructional shifts of the CCSS and slow to ensure that core and supplementary materials meet rigorous criteria. In contrast, numerous states and pioneering California districts have addressed each of these areas.”

In a prepared response to a written list of questions, a CDE representative countered that the state and LEAs are making “remarkable progress” preparing to implement the Common Core. Objecting that Ed Trust did not consult the department for its report, the representative declined to respond to its criticisms and instead offered this statement:

“Working with the State Board of Education, we have jointly approved a CCSS Communications Toolkit that is meant to assist LEAs in their roll out of the standards. We have a continually updated and user-friendly Common Core Web page that provides key research and guidance on the implementation plan for teachers, administrators, students and parents, higher education, and community partners. The collection of resource materials for parents is translated into seven languages. In addition, our CCSS listserv regularly communicates with thousands of subscribers.”

‘Let’s not mess it up’

At a recent meeting of CSBA’s Superintendents Advisory Council, a number of top administrators directed their concerns about the state’s Common Core timeline to legislative staffer Katie McCoy, who represented Assembly Member Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Bonilla is carrying legislation implementing state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s recommendations for administering Common Core assessments.

“I lack confidence in CDE’s capacity to lead this because they have failed so many times in the past,” said Marcus Johnson, superintendent in the Sanger Unified School District. The district is one of 10 in California that have formed CORE—the California Office for Education Reform—which has set its sights on a number of reform objectives, including the Common Core.

“I’m scared. I really am,” Johnson told the Superintendents Advisory Council. He said it’s crucial that the state give LEAs the time and resources to engineer the transition to new standards, teaching and testing so this potentially valuable new educational strategy has a chance to succeed.

“This is a critical juncture,” said Johnson. “We have one chance to get this right. We’ve got a good thing going here. Let’s not mess it up.”

Dave Horsey, superintendent in the Placer Union High School District, said that in three years of meetings with state officials, he has yet to receive “a concrete answer” to his concerns about resources, timelines and other critical issues relating to his district’s ability to make the transition to CCSS.

“We always hear ‘We’re looking at that. We’re studying that,’ ” he said. “It’s very concerning to us that the state is so determined that this is the date [to administer the test.] There’s no budget, but this is the date.”

—Carol Brydolf