Transitioning to the Common Core: 5 Steps for Administrators

By Katie McKnight, Ph.D.

The Common Core State Standards are focused on one clear goal: Preparing our students for the 21st century. They call for a significant change in how teachers teach and students learn. Being an administrator in this changing environment requires a deep understanding of the paradigm shifts required by the Common Core. Leaders who understand this have a tremendous chance of succeeding. Those who neglect it do so at their peril.

In this article, we’ll address 5 steps administrators must take to successfully transition to this new paradigm.

Trust that Teachers Know Best

The Common Core establishes “3 Rs” for the 21st Century. Learning must be robust (higher level), relevant (engaging, involving, and brain-based), and rigorous (high expectations, critical thinking, and challenging thinking). There’s nothing new about this. Every teacher wants the same things.

The Common Core, however, does not establish how teachers are to achieve this learning. It does not prescribe instructional strategies or curriculum. It does not mention intervention for students performing below grade level or with special needs. Nor does it discuss English Language Learners. The authors of the standards believe teachers know best how to meet the new expectations.

Support Teachers with Professional Development

Teachers need time to understand and teach to the standards. Good administrators recognize this calls for a long-term professional development plan. Strapped by tight budgets, they are turning to the power of professional collaboration. By taking advantage of Web 2.0 technologies—including Google and Wikispaces, to name just a few—administrators can be more responsive to the professional development needs of teachers and change can be implemented more effectively.

Promote the Integration of Technology

The new standards expect students to use technology and digital media strategically and capably. That means classrooms must be equipped with developmentally appropriate technological tools and mediums. The question is how to pay for technology. That depends on the school or district. In some schools, as Netbooks and tablets are put into the hands of students, the need for expensive textbooks and photocopying of materials is fading away. Another trend is funding technology with the help of parents—in one survey, 90 percent of parents said they are willing to pay for devices.

Push for Literacy

According to national test data and student performance in reading data, 60% of students are not proficient readers. The Common Core addresses this harsh reality calling on administrators to create a literacy plan for their schools that develops students’ skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in all content areas. Schools are also challenged to address textual complexity in addition to literacy skills in each content area. This calls for a whole school approach to literacy. This will provide an avenue for addressing unproductive instructional practices, such as limited opportunities to read and write, unchallenged comprehension work, extensive copying from blackboards, and worksheets. With a literacy plan in place, schools can also more effectively use data to differentiate instruction for diverse readers.

Prepare for Online Assessments

By the 2014-15 school year, CCSS assessments will be online. The challenge is for administrators to develop a realistic transition plan for reaping the promise of online assessments—including improved security, greater equity for students with special needs, efficiency and consistency among all 46 states implementing the new standards, and student engagement.


For a deeper look at how administrators can lead the successful transition to the Common Core, check out SDE’s webinar Five Steps to Common Core Success: What Administrators Need to Know by literacy expert and author Katie McKnight, Ph.D.

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