Improving Implementation of Common Core Standards and Assessment in MENA

Learning is the imperative to equip future generations to respond and to survive in a frenetically and unpredictably changing world.

Louise Stoll, Dean Fink and Lorna Earl

                         MENA CC                                                               

The MENA Common Core 2nd Annual Conference was held in Dubai on the 24th and 25th of October. A number of educational experts from the Middle East, North Africa and the US came together with the shared goal of improving the implementation of the Common Core Standards in American schools in the region. Over 25 interactive professional development workshops were delivered over the two days period to educators and educational leaders in the region who gave up fun in the sun weekends for this unique professional learning opportunity.

In addition to the formal learning in the workshop rooms, the networking between principals, teachers, educational consultants and publishers inspired hope of collaboration across roles with the shared intention of higher student engagement, learning and achievement. As one teacher stated at the end of the event:

I had a limited understanding of the Standards and their use…. As a teacher, I never questioned the curriculum I was given to teach in terms of the extent to which it met the Standards. Now, I have no doubt that teachers need to be familiar with the Standards of their grade level if not also those of the previous and future grades for the success of the students.

This recognition of the role of the Standards and how they fit into the responsibility matrix for teachers is critical to ensuring that educators are meeting the needs of their students in coordination with the demands of the Standards. It is through these kinds of professional learning opportunities that focus on teacher capacity and understanding without judgment – but rather in an effective and safe environment that we, as an educational community, promote better classroom practice.

The message at the MENA Common Core 2nd Annual Conference was loud and clear and resonated with the big ideas offered by McTighe and Wiggins on how to move from the Common Core Standards to Curriculum. Teachers throughout the weekend were coming to terms with the fact that Standards are not curriculum & that the Standards come to life through the assessments. This necessarily highlights the role teachers play to bring the Standards to life through their professional work that requires a high level of assessment literacy. It sets the stage for teachers to design consciously purposeful assessment alongside learning opportunities for their classes.assessment

This moves away from the practical and often observed model of teachers concentrating their attention on planning and delivering the curriculum content and then designing assessments later in the process when grades are demanded by their leadership for the grade book. The “afterthought” mentality towards assessment is being pushed into the past-tense with Standards that demand more assessment literacy from the front-line educators. The challenge of bringing assessment to the forefront of teaching and learning is daunting for many teachers who receive a limited amount of training in assessment. Perhaps that is why these kinds of events are so critical. But they are not sufficient.

Near the end of the conference, a teacher shared the following:

 I learned that when assessments are done with a purpose in mind this challenge is minimized and the students’ learning is enhanced. Looking back at the days I was teaching, it is difficult for me to imagine the amount of opportunities my students missed because of the purposeless assessments they had.

This kind of reflection needs to be appreciated and invited by educational leaders. A critical way to respect this professional growth is to make sure leaders leave with action-based questions at the forefront of their minds. Questions like:

  1. How can I support the follow up workplace learning necessary to ensure this professional learning translates to classroom practice?
  2. How can I make sure teachers at this school find the resources and networks to continue to discuss and learn about assessment and Standards?
  3. How can I promote assessment literacy tied to the Standards in my school?

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