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Supporting teachers in translating new practices into classroom instruction

In the early 2010s, most U.S. states adopted the Common Core State Standards, hoping to improve student achievement and equity in mathematics and English Language Arts. Teachers and district staff worked hard to change content and instructional practices to align with the standards, yet almost a decade later, there is little evidence that equity improved or that achievement levels rose on a state or national level. Certain districts and schools, however, did see improvements in student learning. What were these districts doing “right”?

From 2015 through 2021, the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) examined how standards are implemented, if they improve student learning, and what instructional tools measure and support their implementation. In the series of briefs below, we share the lessons and recommendations we've learned from districts.


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Brief 1 

Increasing teacher buy-in to improve policy implementation: Six lessons

Learn how to use the five key policy attributes to support educators in translating a new practice to classroom instruction.

  • Lesson 1: Balance specificity with flexibility. 
  • Lesson 2: Implement changes consistent with current policies, practices, or beliefs. 
  • Lesson 3: Make power smart, not hard. 
  • Lesson 4: Consider the history of stability. 
  • Lesson 5: Acknowledge and encourage teacher authority. 
  • Lesson 6: Build teacher authority through the other four key attributes.  



Successful standards implementation: Teacher training with flexible specificity, collaboration, and the right resources

Nearly a decade after most U.S. states adopted the Common Core State Standards, there is little evidence that equity improved or that student achievement rose at the state or national level. Certain districts and schools, however, did see improvements in student learning. What were these districts doing “right”?

  • Lesson 1: Professional learning is a critical lever for effecting instructional change, but the design and structure of the training matter. 
  • Lesson 2: Curricular materials play a critical role in successful standards implementation, but teachers need support and time to adapt those resources to their students’ needs. 
  • Lesson 3: Changing instructional practices is risky for teachers. Teacher buy-in depends on all the implementation factors above. 



Professional learning for better instruction: Three lessons

When and how does professional learning lead to more effective instruction? We shed light on how professional learning might be designed to achieve more-effective teaching. While our work focused on the implementation of college- and career-readiness standards, we believe the lessons we learned apply to most any professional learning aimed at improving instruction. 

  • Lesson 1: Bringing together principals, general education teachers, and teachers of special populations for professional learning benefits both teachers and students. 
  • Lesson 2: Teachers are better equipped to change classroom instruction when they have the opportunity to critically analyze the alignment between the desired change, the resources available to support that change, and their students’ needs. 
  • Lesson 3: Balancing detailed guidance with flexibility for teachers to adapt the guidance can lead to better implementation of the desired change.



Designing instructional coaching to support today’s teachers: Three recommendations

Instructional coaching is a powerful instrument for sharpening teachers’ methods and skills in a way that leads to greater student learning—as demonstrated by a robust research base and in practice. District leaders can amplify the effects of coaching if they know how to optimize this beneficial process. We share how leaders can achieve this.

  • Recommendation 1: Strengthen District-Level Infrastructure for Coaching. 
  • Recommendation 2: Align coaching with your district’s priorities, curriculum, and standards. 
  • Recommendation 3: Help coaches develop local knowledge and relationships.  


More: Supporting English learners and their teachers

The following briefs were published in partnership with WIDA and are available for free on their website.

From False-Positives to Advocacy: Shifting Deficit Perspectives in the Identification of English Learners 

Deficit perspectives affect both students who are identified as ELs, as well as those who are not identified. As a way to resist these deficit perspectives, I would like to propose and encourage a renewed effort in the realm of advocacy beyond a sole focus on implementation of policies.

Ensuring student success: Supporting bi/multilingual students after exiting English learner programming

Oftentimes local, district, and state education agencies find themselves with many students who have exited EL programs but appear to need additional language support. In this article, we’ll examine the legal requirements to bi/multilingual students who exit EL programs and recommendations to enhance the services.

Be(com)ing an LTEL: Challenging policies and practices in the education of long-term English learners

Bi/multilingual students who have been officially classified as English learners for five or more years are formally identified as long-term English learners (LTELs). Since the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law in 2015, districts have been required to monitor LTELs and to identify interventions to help them succeed. Yet, monitoring these students has highlighted inequities in policies and practices related to their education.