FAQs about the CCRS and Level Gains

I recently sat down with Brad Hasskamp, Adult Secondary Credential and Education Policy Specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education, for a candid conversation regarding the College & Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) and current and future expectations of ABE teachers and programs to create a standards-aligned system of instruction.

Q. Which is more important: NRS level gains or aligning instruction to the CCRS?

A. If programs are looking to prioritize, then prioritize standards-based instruction over NRS level gains. The field of ABE is in an awkward transitioning phase to new NRS-approved assessments, but this is also a low-risk time to do the work of aligning our classrooms and programs to the CCRS. The state is not doing program improvement right now with NRS targets, so programs that don’t achieve the targets are not penalized for working to implement the standards. Ultimately, students will make gains with high-quality instruction. We must see the time we spend focusing on the new standards as valuable regardless of current NRS assessments not being aligned to the standards yet. If we only focus on what is in front of us, we won’t be prepared (or prepare our students) for what is coming.

Q. How will the CCRS impact the new TABE/CASAS tests and educational functioning levels?

A. The revised NRS Educational Functioning Levels Descriptors, which address the most critical concepts for assessment and instruction for adult learners, are based off the language of the CCR Standards. The new NRS-approved assessments (such as the new TABE and CASAS) will be based on the revised level descriptors and CCR Standards. Everything in our system is going to be aligned: the GED, the State Standard Adult Diploma, credit completion and recovery diploma programs, NRS assessments, and ABE/ESL educational functioning levels.

Q. Why don’t we wait to see the new tests before we invest time and energy in embedding new standards?

A. Based on what we’ve seen, we know the new NRS assessments are strongly aligned to the CCRS. Creating a standards-aligned system is a multi-year effort. We need time to productively struggle and experiment with the standards in a low-risk environment that allows us to innovate and align all the elements of instruction and the system together. Moreover, many of our ABE students still want GEDs and diplomas (which are both aligned to the CCRS), and they must show competency with the standards now, not only when the new assessments come out.

Q. What if the Common Core State Standards that the CCRS is based on cease to exist?

A. Even if the Common Core is revised or dropped, ABE is now a standards-based system, and we will move forward to align elements of our system to the CCRS. Complex change takes a long time, and the changes to NRS level descriptors and our upcoming new assessments have been underway for awhile. Therefore, if the standards were to evolve, it would be probably at least 5 to 10 years before any change would happen to move us toward a different set of standards. 

Additionally, ABE programs in the future are going to have to show evidence of more than NRS level gains, including number of diplomas and GEDs received and percentages of students who go on to postsecondary education, training, or employment. Preparing our students for the opportunities of the 21st century is crucial whether our students have short- or long-term goals or have goals that don’t become evident until after they leave our classrooms.

Q. What is the deal with the 2017 “re-compete” I keep hearing about, and how will programs need to document their work with standards for that application and future ABE five-year narratives?

A. Local ABE programs need to be able to document their standards work by articulating three items in their federal ABE competitive applications (A.K.A. the “re-compete”) and ongoing through their ABE five-year narratives:

  1. staff training in the standards; 
  2. the program’s multi-year standards implementation plan; and 
  3. examples of how standards are embedded in instruction across the program.

First published 12/19/16

Kristine Kelly, Literacy & ELA Coordinator ATLAS