Creating a Coherent System to Support Instruction Aligned with State Standards

Promising Practices of the Louisiana Department of Education

by Julia H. Kaufman, Lindsey E. Thompson, V. Darleen Opfer

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Research Questions

  1. How are teachers in Louisiana implementing their state standards compared with teachers in other states that have adopted Common Core State Standards or standards similar to Common Core?
  2. What state department of education strategies in Louisiana could be contributing to the differences between Louisiana teachers and teachers in other states?
  3. What are the implications for states and districts that are aiming to help students meet state standards and achieve at high levels?

In today's environment, teachers are often bombarded with contradictory messages about how they should help students meet state standards. The push across the United States for uniform and rigorous standards — as well as high-quality, aligned assessments — represents a chance for states to reimagine ways to provide teachers with clearer and more-coherent messages about what they can be doing every day in their classrooms to support student learning. The impetus for this report is new evidence that state department of education work to align instruction with standards may make a difference for teachers' practices and understanding about their state standards. Using data from the American Teacher Panel, RAND researchers found that Louisiana teachers were more likely than other teachers to consult resources that address their state standards, and they reported teaching — and thinking about teaching — in ways that differ from U.S. norms and in ways that are more aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Researchers examined Louisiana Department of Education strategies that might be contributing to these results, including a coherent academic strategy, transparent and regular communication with stakeholders, and support for local decisionmaking. This report is intended to provide guidance to states about sensible state systems that give educators coherent messages and concrete tools to help students meet high academic standards.

Key Findings

Louisiana Teachers Think About and Implement State Standards Differently from Teachers in Other States

  • Compared with teachers in other states, more Louisiana teachers regularly used or consulted standards-aligned instructional resources.
  • Louisiana teachers demonstrated a more accurate understanding of approaches and practices aligned with CCSS for ELA compared with teachers in other SACC states.
  • Compared with math teachers in other SACC states, more math teachers in Louisiana identified the CCSS-aligned math topics for their grade levels.
  • Compared with teachers in other SACC states, Louisiana ELA teachers were more likely to report that their students engaged in some practices aligned with CCSS, including more text-centered practices.
  • Secondary math teachers in Louisiana were more likely than those in other SACC states to engage students in some Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice.

The Louisiana State Department of Education Has Created a Coherent Environment for Instruction

  • Our interviews and document analysis suggest that the Louisiana State Department of Education has relied on the following three main strategies to support teachers' implementation of state standards: a coherent academic strategy focused on integration, alignment, and quality among systems supporting standards; transparent and regular communication about academics within the state department and across layers of the education system; and strong support for local decisionmaking and ownership of change by districts and teachers.

Recommendations

  • State departments of education should consider prioritizing two complementary areas to standards and assessments that research suggests are key to systemic reforms: curricula and professional development. In particular, states should work to recommend or develop curricular and professional development resources that are well-aligned with their standards.
  • States should strive for flat communications structures within their departments of education that, in particular, ensure collaboration and regular communication between those with K–12 content expertise and those developing and supporting systems related to curriculum, assessment and professional development.
  • States should consider communicating directly and regularly to both administrators and teachers. In particular, Louisiana's extensive communication with and supports to thousands of Teacher Leaders across the state has the best chance of directly supporting improvements to instruction.
  • Involving local educators in work to align assessments, curriculum, and professional development with standards allows them to feel ownership and responsibility for the success of these efforts. Engaging these educators also expands a state department of education's limited staff capacity by drawing on expertise and talent from across the state.
  • When states do not have the capacity or will to create coherent and aligned systems that support implementation of standards, districts must seek to build that coherent environment within their own districts by aligning state standards and assessments as closely as possible with curricula and professional development.

Research conducted by

This research was funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust and conducted by RAND Education.

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