How ‘Common’ Are State-Provided Standards Resources? What State-Provided Resources Can Tell Us About Common Core Implementation

Emily Hodge, Serena Salloum, Susanna Benko
Thursday, May 18, 2017
College- and Career-Readiness
Common Core State Standards

Alignment between various parts of the education policy system is a central goal of any standards-based reform. In 2009, when governors from almost all states were involved in the initial development of the Common Core State Standards, it may have seemed like common standards would result in tighter alignment, or greater consistency, in curriculum, professional development, instruction, and assessment across states. As part of this multi-state consistency, common standards could enable high-quality shared resources in curriculum, professional development—even shared assessments. 

Although the assessment landscape has become quite fractured, there is still a case to be made that the Common Core are alive and well with around 40 states still subscribing to the CCSS or a slightly modified version, in contrast to the recent comments of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that “there really isn’t any Common Core any more.”

But are states taking advantage of the potential to share resources with each other? If so, what types of resources are states providing to each other, and who is providing them: CCSS organizations? The state education agency (SEA) itself? Other SEAs? Professional organizations?

States take different approaches to supporting standards

To learn more about how states are supporting standards implementation and the extent to which they are drawing on materials from each other, or from different organizations, we created a database of the curricular and professional resources provided on the websites of all 51 SEAs, including the District of Columbia, during Fall 2015. We coded resources for their sponsoring organization (including other SEAs), type of resource, and the area of English language arts (ELA) on which the resource focused.[1] We then used social network analysis to visualize the organizations and states to which other states were linking.

We found that states were taking a variety of approaches to standards implementation. For example, circles representing the Mississippi (MSDOE) and New Mexico (NMDOE) departments of education are in the top right of the figure. Those two circles are disconnected from the figure because they only provided resources created within the SEA. Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and South Carolina, on the left side of the figure, linked to one or two organizations, including state-provided resource databases. However, these states are disconnected from the figure because no other SEAs linked to those databases/organizations.

The SEAs that are part of the connected figure in the middle have linked to at least one organization/SEA that another SEA has also linked to. Although this is not easy to see in the figure, states in the middle part of the figure have also taken diverse approaches to the resources they provide. Oregon linked to more SEAs than any other state, demonstrating that Oregon is seeking at least some CCSS resources externally, rather than only developing resources internally. New York mostly invested in creating resources internally, creating curriculum modules hosted on its website. Idaho was the most connected to national literacy organizations, which may indicate that messages about CCSS instruction in Idaho are distinct from states that provide resources primarily from CCSS policy and advocacy organizations. Alaska did not adopt the CCSS, but provides some resources from CCSS policy and advocacy organizations. Oklahoma, also a non-CCSS state, links to some of the same organizations as CCSS-adopting states, and has used innovative resource dissemination strategies like podcasts and a Facebook group.

Figure 1. Sociogram of ELA Resource Providers

Explore the network: using your mouse, scroll to zoom in and out.

Figure 1: Explore the Network

Note: Circles represent SEAs; white SEAs have adopted CCSS, black SEAs have not. Gray squares represent intermediary organizations. Node size denotes level of influence.  Line thickness denotes strength of tie and arrows indicate directionality.

States provide more conceptual than instructional resources

We found that states were providing more materials with information about standards (53.8%) than resources that could be used directly in classroom instruction like lesson plans and unit plans (17.5%). About a quarter of resources states provided were links to collections of materials rather than to discrete resources. Very few resources focused on one domain within ELA (reading, writing, or speaking and listening), and almost half of the resources focused on multiple domains within ELA. In addition, over a third of the resources located on pages explicitly saying they provided ELA resources were resources that were not specific to ELA, but could be applied to multiple content areas. 

Table 1. Resource category, type, and emphasis for all resources

Fifty-four percent of state resources are conceptual in nature, providing information about standards rather than practical resources to use in classroom instruction. Only 13% of resources available on state websites are instructional aids. More than one-third (34.5%) of resources provided as English language arts resources are not ELA-specific.

  Total Resources
  Frequency Percent
Resource Category    
Practical 350 17.5
Conceptual 1075 53.8
Both 367 18.4
Other 208 10.4
Resource Type    
Article/Report 154 7.7
Collection 484 24.2
Curriculum Guidelines 299 15.0
Homepage 229 11.5
Instructional Aid - Small 143 7.1
Instructional Aid - Large 114 5.7
Professional Development 308 15.4
Standards Document 180 9.0
Student Work 33 1.7
Other 56 2.8
Resource Emphasis    
Reading 235 11.8
Writing 160 8.0
Listening/Speaking 20 1.0
General English Language Arts 895 44.8
General 690 34.5


Common Core and Race to the Top States

There also seemed to be a relationship between winning Race to the Top, adopting the CCSS, and the types of resources states were providing. States adopting the CCSS provided a higher proportion of professional development resources (17.0%) than states that did not adopt the CCSS (1.9%). While CCSS-adopting and non-CCSS-adopting states provided almost the same proportion of lesson plans, CCSS states provided 114 total links to unit plans, while non-CCSS states provided zero. Similarly, states that won Race to the Top provided a greater share of unit plans. However, it is difficult to disentangle the extent to which these differences are a result of states using Race to the Top funds for resource creation, adopting shared standards, and/or other conditions within the state.

Table 2.  Resource Type by Common Core Status

English language arts resources available on state education agency websites differ for Common Core and non-Common Core states. Common Core states provided a higher proportion of professional development resources (17.0%) than non-Common Core states (1.9%).

  Non Common Core State Common Core States Total
Article/Report 6
Collection 83
Curriculum Guidelines 27
Homepage 23
Instructional Aid - Small 15
Instructional Aid - Large 0
Professional Development 4
Standards Document 37
Student Work 5
Other 15
Total 215

Few organizations gain traction across states

Our analysis of the sponsors of college- and career-readiness standards resources for ELA demonstrated two key findings. First, a broad swath of states and organizations are involved in providing resources to support state standards. Resources in our database were sponsored by all 51 SEAs and 262 organizations.

However, although there were 313 total SEAs/organizations involved in supporting standards implementation across the country, there were relatively few organizations gaining traction with multiple states. The many small squares surrounding the figure above represent organizations to which only one SEA linked. Almost three-quarters of the SEAs/organizations were listed as resource sponsors by only one SEA, and only 28 organizations (8.9%) were listed as resource sponsors by five or more SEAs. These organizations are the larger squares in the middle of the figure above. The organizations to which SEAs were linking the most often are a mix of policy organizations, including the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers (official sponsors of the CCSS), literacy organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Literacy Association, and organizations founded to provide resources to teachers in the CCSS era, like Student Achievement Partners.

Table 3. SEAs and Organizations Most Commonly Named as Sponsors of CCSS Resources

Of 313 state education agencies and other organizations named by 50 states and the District of Columbia as providers of English language arts resources, only 28 organizations (8.9%) were listed as resource sponsors by five or more states.

    Organization/SEA Number of SEAs Linking to Org/SEA Percent of SEAs Linking to Org/SEA
1. Council of Chief State School Officers 30 58.8%
2. National Governors Association 25 49.0%
3. Student Achievement Partners 24 47.1%
4. International Literacy Association 17 33.3%
5. Achieve 16 31.4%
6. National Council of Teachers of English 16 31.4%
7. Council for Great City Schools 15 29.4%
8. Public Broadcasting Service 14 27.5%
9. Teaching Channel 14 27.5%
10. National Association of State Boards of Education 13 23.5%
11. New York State Department of Education 9 17.6%
12. The Hunt Institute 9 17.6%
13. Engage New York 9 17.6%
14. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development 8 15.7%
15. Vermont Writing Collaborative 7 13.7%
16. Reading Rockets 6 11.8%
17. National Writing Project 6 11.8%
18. National Education Association 6 11.8%
19. Literacy Design Collaborative 6 11.8%
20. Delaware Department of Education 6 11.8%
21. America Achieves 6 11.8%
22. Kansas State Department of Education 6 11.8%
23. LearnZillion 6 11.8%
24. OER Commons 5 9.8%
25. New York City Department of Education 5 9.8%
26. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction 5 9.8%
27. MetaMetrics 5 9.8%
28. Louisiana Department of Education 5 9.8%

Note: The count and percent represents the number and proportion, respectively, of state education agencies that provided a link to a resource sponsored by particular state or organization.  Fifty-one SEAs are included (including Washington, DC.)

So, what does this all mean for the idea of greater alignment and coherence between policy and classroom practice?

The great diversity of organizations at the national level may mean a cacophony of different messages about how to enact the standards in classroom instruction; then again, the relatively low number of organizations gaining traction with multiple states means that instructional messages may be more coherent, assuming that the resources from each organization are providing similar messages about instruction.

In addition to setting the stage for greater alignment between standards, curriculum, and assessment across states, common standards have also enabled the growth of new organizations devoted to Common Core implementation. Many of these organizations were represented towards the center of the figure, indicating that multiple states have linked to them on their websites. In addition to CCSS organizations like Student Achievement Partners, a few SEAs have created resources that have gained traction with other states: at least five SEAs linked to resources sponsored by New York (including, Delaware, Kansas, North Carolina, and Louisiana. We cannot comment on the extent to which SEAs may have drawn on each other’s resources before the CCSS, but it does seem to us that the context of shared standards, the rise of open educational resources, and the ubiquity of technology enables the sharing of information and instructional resources between and across SEAs.

A previously unpublished finding about the coherence of curricular resources in the Common Core context is that there are not only influential organizations, but also influential resources to which states frequently linked. Unsurprisingly, many states linked to copies of the standards themselves. In addition to copies of the standards, 11 states linked to the CCSS Appendix A, which provides a rationale for the standards. Ten states linked to the CCSS Appendix B, which provides sample texts and tasks, and nine states linked to Appendix C, a document with examples of student writing in different genres across K–12. Twelve states linked to the Publisher’s Criteria, a document written by the lead authors of the CCSS for ELA and Literacy that provides a set of guidelines for publishers about the kinds of instruction the lead authors see as in line with the standards.

Now that we know what that types of resources SEAs are providing and who is sponsoring them, our new phase of research closely examines the content of the resources for their messages about what teachers “should” do to teach in ways aligned with the CCSS to get a better sense of the coherence of messages about ELA instruction, as well as how those messages align with the research base in ELA and literacy. We are also interviewing SEA officials to learn more about their resource selection and dissemination strategies to understand the diversity of approaches our network map revealed, and why some states generate resources internally while others seek resources from other states or outside organizations.

This study was published in a recent special issue of AERA Open, edited by C-SAIL Co-director Morgan Polikoff.

To learn more about which resources teachers, principals, and district officials in C-SAIL’s partners states find most useful, see our Texas survey report and Ohio survey report (look for our Kentucky survey report coming soon).

For further reading, please see the following:

Emily Hodge is Assistant Professor of Counseling and Educational Leadership at Monclair State University; Serena Salloum is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Susanna Benko is  an Associate Professor of English at Ball State.

[1] We focused on ELA rather than mathematics because some research indicates that the CCSS are more different from previous state standards in ELA than in math (Porter, McMaken, Hwang, & Yang, 2011).

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