Why State Board Members Need to Communicate with Stakeholders

Communicating what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) mean for educators, parents, students, and the community at large is essential. One of the most important things to communicate is that high standards alone will not prepare students for college and careers. Students must have the resources, tools, and support they need to become college and career ready. Likewise, educators need support and resources to help students achieve proficiency on the CCSS. In short, it will require the effort of more than state board members, educators, and students to achieve the intention of the CCSS. Building a coalition of support from outside education is important, and this is an important aspect of CCSS communication efforts.  The more people from a cross-section of the state community delivering a similar message, the more likely those who need to know about the CCSS will get the information they need.

Click the below image to hear former Kentucky State Board member Dorie Combs speak on Kentucky's communication strategy.

There are still many myths about the Common Core, and overall public understanding varies tremendously. One common misconception—and one that is often seen in the news media—is that the CCSS are a product of the U.S. Department of Education and that states were forced to adopt the standards. Many believe the standards tell teachers how to teach and that the standards are an effort to control what happens in classrooms. These myths have served as the basis for some attempts to repeal adoption in states. Communicating accurate information and helping to clarify some of the confusion related to the CCSS will be important moving forward if states want to stay the course and continue toward implementing the CCSS.

Given the role of state boards of education in adoption and implementation of the CCSS, the public will naturally look to state boards for additional information and clarification on the decisions made related to adoption and implementation. State board members are likely to be asked many questions about CCSS implementation, and members should be prepared to answer such questions, as well as to work with other education leaders such as the governor, chief, and state legislature to ensure the intent of the message is clearly communicated across governing bodies. The extent to which state board members individually and collectively answer the questions consistently will help improve the board’s communication efforts and improve public knowledge about CCSS and what it means for everyone involved. A communications workshop for the entire board might be helpful in developing a small set of common messages the board wants to deliver to the public regarding CCSS. For this reason, consistent, frequent communication is essential.

Many state education agencies (SEAs) have internal communications staff, as do most governors’ offices. State boards may want to ask SEA or governors’ communication staff to assist with crafting messages and answers to questions posed by the public. A sub-committee of board members could also be charged to work on communications. Keep in mind that the messages delivered should always be targeted to specific audiences.

Examples of State Action on CCSS Communication

The communications committee of the Utah State Board of Education partnered with the Utah Department of Education to develop a communications booklet that is being delivered to all stakeholders. The resource book contains information pertaining to the standards and their implementation, and contains the certification of higher education institutions providing their support for the standards.

To combat the possibility of miscommunication, the Georgia department of education partnered with the Georgia Public Broadcasting system to develop modules and communications packets and deliver statewide professional learning sessions on the standards. More on this effort can be found at http://www.gpb.org/education/common-core.

 

Communication about what the standards are, how they are different from previous state standards, and what they mean for educators and students is important. However, equally important is communicating proactively in an effort to prepare the public for what is inevitable—a drop in the number of students achieving proficiency after the first administration of the new assessments. Kentucky recently administered a practice CCSS assessment, the Kentucky Performance Rating of Education Progress (K-Prep). Student scores in reading dropped one third and dropped 45 percent in math. Kentucky officials expected the drop, largely because studies conducted to determine student readiness for the CCSS found that current state standards are not adequately preparing students for college and careers, a recognition that drove the development of the assessments initially. States may want to adopt and develop a similar “bridge assessment strategy” to gauge student mastery against the CCSS and prepare the field and the public for the drop in proficiency rates.

Whenever states adopt new standards and assess their students, a drop in proficiency typically occurs. Communicating an expected drop in proficiency is important for a number of reasons. First, the CCSS are meant to determine the extent to which a student is college- and career- ready, an important distinction for students and their parents. Questions parents and the general public are likely to pose include: What exactly does a low score on a college-and career-ready assessment mean for a student? Does it mean a student can’t go to college? Does it mean a student will not be able to get a job after high school?  Parents and students will want to know and better understand what changed in the course of a year. If a drop is expected, it should be communicated before the assessment results are released and answers to these questions should be well-crafted and consistent, regardless of who is answering the questions. Communication about the expected drop in the number of proficient students should include information about how local education agencies (LEA) and the SEA are prepared to help students improve their scores and become proficient. Proactive planning will be required to do this well. State boards should know what the SEA plans to do to address this matter and, when appropriate, develop and adopt board policies that support such efforts.

Second, a drop in proficiency levels among students will mean that many stakeholders will question the cut scores adopted, in most cases, by the state board. As with other state assessments, each state will adopt a cut score for the CCSS assessments. This cut score is the score at which students are deemed to be proficient. Each assessment consortium will recommend a cut score for their respective assessments. However, states will have the choice to either adopt the cut score recommended by the assessment consortium or adopt their own. Comparability, a cornerstone of the CCSS movement, will be compromised if each state adopts its own cut score for the assessments. Different cut scores among states is currently part of the reason drawing comparative conclusions about students and their performance is impossible (in addition to each state having its own standards and assessments). Further, use of the assessments for admission to post-secondary institutions and placement in remedial courses could be compromised if states use their own cut scores and deviate from the assessment consortia recommendations.

Whatever decision a state board makes regarding cut scores should involve higher education officials. Higher education officials in each state are involved with the development of both the CCSS and the assessments, and have a vested interest in how the CCSS assessment results are interpreted and used. If proactive communication about a drop in proficiency among students is not done well and done by many policymakers, the state board included, there might be pressure to lower the cut scores a state adopts.

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