Gap Analysis and the Common Core Learning Standards

This week, I’m sharing out some of the processes I’ve used to help teachers build a fluency with the Common Core Learning Standards.

And today, I’m going to talk about Common Core gap analysis. By this, I mean the process of examining a standard and using evidence to determine if curricula aligns to it. There are different levels of gap analysis and different protocols that support this work. For instance:

  • It is possible to glance at the standards and begin having conversations about what they might mean and where we think our curricula is aligned. This enables us to orient ourselves with the standards and begin making initial connections between what we think they might mean and our curricula. I think of this as a perfunctory gap analysis, and the understanding is that when I work this way with teachers initially, there is far more to come in the future.
  • A deeper gap analysis could involve unwrapping the standards by defining explicit and implicit meaning, content, concepts, skills, and levels of rigor. This enables us to articulate what the standards mean with far greater specificity, in order to design or align curricula with far greater precision. If this is our purpose, it is important to use evidence to support the decisions we make about where alignment may exist or not. This is where curriculum maps, unit guides, lesson plans, assessments, annotations and other data begin to play a very critical role.

My next steps with teachers in most of the schools I work in involves performing a perfunctory gap analysis relevant to what the standards have made explicit.

I think this works well if:

  • You are just beginning to work with a group of teachers you do not know well
  • Teachers haven’t had much experience with curriculum design or mapping
  • People haven’t read or unwrapped the standards yet

In these cases, a perfunctory gap analysis can ease people into the process of making meaning from standards and comparing what they learn about them to what they are doing. They can also enable facilitators to learn more about the teachers they are serving and their needs. When we listen carefully, teachers will often reveal what they think the standards might mean. You can also take some time to ask  important questions about how well they think their curricula aligns. This often prompts them to share information about different kinds of evidence that can inform future work and what they feel needs to be done. This  can help you refine your strategic plan. If this sort of perfunctory analysis suits your purposes, a deeper analysis must happen later and part of your work will involve helping teachers build the capacity to do this greater work.

I noticed that as we moved through this simple gap analysis process, teachers in different schools and districts began voicing similar uncertainties:

“I’m not sure if I really teach this standard because I don’t remember what happened last year very well. We don’t have curriculum maps.”

“We have pacing guides but they don’t say much about these standards. They really focus on the resources I’m using and when I need to use them.”

“I haven’t taught this course yet, so I don’t know if I will be aligned to this standard.”

“Well, I teach this at least once I think, but is this about what I DO or is it about what STUDENTS DO?”

“When we say we’re addressing a standard, does that mean we’re teaching it, assessing it or both?”

“If I am not checking how well each of my students performs against a standard, how can I confidently say that my curricula is aligned? More importantly, how do I even know if they are getting it? Just because I’m teaching it doesn’t mean they are getting it.”

“Is it okay that my curricula is aligned but that my assessments are not? I’m not so sure anymore…..”

“If a standard says that students MUST do X, Y, AND Z, that’s much different than saying students MAY do things such as X, Y, OR Z.”

These were some of the good questions that emerged from this very early work, and landing in this place was critical. Successfully “Racing to the Top” can’t be about rushing to “get stuff done” in order to meet a set of requirements or check activities off of a list of things to do. Reform involves changing the way we think, continually revising the work that we do, and shifting practice in significant ways.

If the work of unwrapping has already occurred, gap analysis can attend to implicit as well as explicit meaning. It can also attend to additional indicators generated from visioning work or the study of things that the CCLS don’t attend to but that matter to your district or school.  For instance, some of the teachers I am working with have also explored various resources in order to define indicators of 21st Century Skills, Literacies, and Fluencies. Silvia Tolisano’s work is grounded in meaningful research and incredibly reader-friendly. She also connects theory to practice and shares so much from her work with kids. I’ve been sending many teachers her way throughout this process. Teachers can also articulate indicators that are aligned to vision. Designing high quality units and lessons requires alignment to these greater understandings that emerge from deeper learning and work.

I believe that all of this work should be about helping schools become communities of learners. If this is the case, then gap analysis isn’t an end unto itself. Any of the processes and protocols we use are catalysts for change. The creative tension, cognitive dissonance, and questions that emerge as we use them are one indication that change is beginning to happen at one level of the system, but there is so much more work to be done. These are the things I’m left wondering:

  • What other levels of the system must be considered? For instance, where does policy align? Where do we need to advocate for change?
  • What kinds of changes should be made there?
  • Which processes and protocols can be used as catalysts?
  • How will we know when change has begun?
  • What will it look like when we’ve finally arrived where we want to be?



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