Research-Based Publications That Foster Educator Expertise

Carla Moore

An experienced professional developer, teacher, and administrator, Carla Moore, MSEd, oversees professional development and product development for Learning Sciences International, with a special emphasis on teacher and administrator effectiveness. For more than a decade, she was a member of the Learning Sciences professional development team and served in many roles, including director of quality instruction at St. Lucie County Public Schools in Florida. She co-led the implementation of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model and supported training within the district to meet strategic milestones for student achievement. She is nationally recognized for her commitment to K-12 education, having received the 2013 Florida Association of Staff Development Award, the Schlechty Centre Conference Fellowship, and the Treasure Coast News Lifetime Achiever of Education Award, among others.

Resources by Carla Moore

Interviews by Carla Moore

Q&A with Carla Moore
The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms:
A Practical Instructional Model for Every Student to Achieve Rigor

As a co-author of the best-selling Essentials for Achieving Rigor series, professional developer and administrator Carla Moore focuses her expertise on helping teachers get the instructional tools they need for increasing rigor. Here, we talk with Moore about the roadblocks teachers face when unpacking the standards; why professional learning communities benefit students as much as teachers; and how her new book, The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms, guides educators in synthesizing the components of the Essentials model for practical, sustainable classroom use.

If teachers already own the individual books from the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series, what will this book add to their instruction?

The individual Essentials books are great for going deep into a particular strategy, for instance creating and using learning targets and performance scales or identifying critical content. The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms brings all 13 strategies from the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series together and addresses how to use them collectively as a model of instruction.


What is the most significant ideological change teachers must embrace to shift their classrooms to the Essentials model?

The biggest shift teachers need to embrace is encouraging students to take ownership of the thinking and allowing them to do the work. We continue to see teachers doing the thinking and not encouraging students to think critically.


Enabling students to think critically is at the heart of the standards, but how do teachers implement that in reality?

To answer this question, we start at the beginning: planning. What do we look at first? Do we begin with a teacher’s guide to a textbook, other resources, or maybe an instructional strategy? If the starting point is a resource, this would lead to the resource driving instruction with standards being referenced. If a strategy is driving instruction, this would lead to strategy-driven instruction. To be truly standards-driven, we must begin with the standards and align strategies and resources. In this book, we emphasize how teachers use resources and strategies while still creating standards-driven instruction.


In the section, “Tips for Grouping Standards into Units,” you recommend that teachers use state test specifications to help determine their measurement topics. How do you respond when you are asked if this equates to teaching to the standards?  

The College Readiness Standards were not designed to be taught in isolation and are not tested in isolation. Test specs help us check if we are interpreting which standards should be taught together and if we are grouping the standards accurately for implementation. Standards should be grouped together and taught in a specific way. Currently, many districts are interpreting the standards for themselves, which may or may not be beneficial to students or teachers if the interpretation is not aligned to the architecture of the standards or to how the test creators are going to measure standards implementation. We do not see using test specification’s to determine how to group standards as preparing for a test; rather, testing is the measurement to see if our students are learning what we intended them to learn.


When you discuss unpacking the standards to create learning targets, you advise teachers not to “over-chunk the standards.” Would you elaborate on that?

Learning targets should be lesson-sized—a chunk of the standard that can be learned within a lesson. If you over-chunk, there are too many small pieces for students to see the full intent and rigor of the standards. Some standards may be too large for students to learn in one lesson. We need to keep the lesson size chunk-appropriate and break it down enough to be learned within a lesson, but not so small students cannot see how the chunks connect or build to the full standard. The verbs in the standards serve as the guides or anchors.


You wrote that it can take three years for a teacher to create and refine standards-based performance scales. Do you find that teachers typically expect it to be a quick process or that they can create a system once and use it for every class? How do you counsel them?

We explain the first year is going to be the creating or building stage. The second and third years are the refining years. Teachers find nuances each time they practice. And yes, we do need to encourage teachers, It will get easier, I promise, and you’re going to see the value in going through this process. Teachers tell us all the time that once they learn the process, it becomes faster and easier to do it. In the beginning, it’s difficult because like any new skill, you are thinking and learning through every step. Teachers find building performance scales are worth the effort and dividends are in the student learning.


What is one of the biggest roadblocks for teachers as they unpack the standards, and how do you address this?

The biggest roadblock is that teachers struggle to understand the full intent and rigor of the standards. As they unpack each standard, they realize that they may not really know what it means or what it looks like. They may not fully understand how the shifts fit into the big picture or how a shift or standard may look from subject to subject. There’s so much learning going on right now and not many resources out there to help.


In your description of what rigor is and how to achieve it, you mention complexity and autonomy. What are some examples of how a teacher can provide complexity while supporting autonomy in the classroom?

To understand the standards, you have to look at the taxonomy or level of thinking, and many educators are missing this helpful tool. In the book, we look at the level of thinking of the standard, which is what we mean by the complexity. The question is What are the cognitive demands on the students? It is important that the teacher scaffold and support students in the beginning, but then the students have to think for themselves and demonstrate with fluency that they can complete the task and understand the standard on their own.


How will this book assist teachers in understanding which Essentials instructional strategies to use in a given situation?

The key is helping teachers fully understand each strategy. Once teachers really know the strategies and the desired result of each strategy―what should students be able to do―we guide teachers in comparing that information with the standard. In the beginning, this can seem complex, but we walk teachers through the process so it becomes second nature.


The Learning Sciences Marzano Center Essentials for Achieving Rigor model calls for close collaboration among teachers. In your evaluations of school districts, are you seeing more teachers working together in professional learning communities? What does that look like?

Yes, we are seeing a lot of these communities, and it’s great because professional learning communities (PLCs) are crucial to the Essentials model. When teachers work together, planning becomes lighter due to collaboration, experience, and shared thinking of every team member.   PLCs become true teams when they own the learning of every student from a team, not just those in their individual classes. We are seeing the power that comes out of that. We did a study around PLC work and found teacher motivation increases when work is relevant and authentic. The teachers in our PLCs have made working together a way of life. They meet daily because they want to, not because they feel they have to.


Is there something I didn’t ask about you or your book that you would like to share?

In the Essentials model, we define quality instruction from planning all the way to reflection after a lesson. The model with the book gives a process for teaching, learning, and reflecting. This has been a missing critical piece. Teaching is complex, but when we look for the quick fix, it doesn’t usually give lasting results. The Essentials model of instruction provides the path to achieve lasting results and instruction to rigor.

Q&A with Carla Moore on
Creating & Using Learning Targets & Performance Scales

When professional developer and administrator Carla Moore saw teachers struggling to teach to the rigor of standards, she wanted to create a system that would guide their instruction while motivating students. Moore was conducting successful teacher workshops, but she knew teachers needed a blueprint they could refer to when they were on their own in their classrooms. Creating & Using Learning Targets & Performance Scales, Moore’s newest book, answers that need. We’ve asked Moore to explain the benefits of learning targets and performance scales, for teachers and students.

What prompted you to write on the topic of learning targets and performance scales?

One of the first issues I saw as a staff developer with Learning Sciences International was teachers struggling to create learning targets and performance scales. There are a lot of steps in the process and it can be very complicated. We wanted to simplify that process while making sure it aligned with the new standards. We wanted to help teachers by including examples of how the scales would look at different grade levels―from early childhood through high school.

How a teacher creates these scales in her individual classroom is very important, but the scales shouldn’t be made in isolation. Comparing scales with the grade above and below means the teacher is instructing to the intent of the standards. Interestingly, once teachers create scales, they get a thorough understanding of the standards along with clarity on what they know and don’t know.

You state in your book that the starting point for creating learning targets and performance scales is the standards. How so?

For the scales to be impactful, they have to be standards-based because that is the way we get students to the rigor of the standards.

What is the difference between a learning target and a performance scale, and how are they complementary?

 A learning target is a step in a progression of the learning of the standards. The performance scales are created when you take all of those steps and put them into a progression from the simplest to the most complex.

What are the benefits to teachers and students once teachers have mastered learning targets and performance scales?

For teachers, creating scales actually saves them time once they’ve mastered the skill because they become more efficient in their application. Initially, learning to create scales is, like learning anything new, cumbersome and seemingly complex. But over time, teachers start to do it without thinking about each step, and the better they become at it, the faster they can do it. Eventually, they won’t have to go back to their notes to see what level they’re working on. It all feels very natural.

For students, having scales to work from becomes motivational. And it’s familiar to them because it feels like gaming, which kids love. With gaming, the first thing they’re shown is what their target is for that level. When they’ve mastered that level, they get to go on to the next. It’s the same with learning targets and performance scales. If done correctly, they become success criteria for the students. When students have the understanding that this activity is linked to this goal or scale, it sets a purpose for the learning.

Are learning targets and performance scales more effective if used as a school-wide initiative instead of individual classrooms adapting them?

Absolutely. It’s even better if it’s across the district. But I will say that you don’t know how good a scale is until you’ve taught it. If I was in a classroom today, I’d be teaching and tweaking the scales to see if the results from my students were what I thought they would be. And if not, then I’d evaluate that scale again.

How can learning targets and performance scales be utilized to assist ESE and ELL students who may be struggling in their studies?

The standardized learning targets are for all students, so the learning targets and performance scales will help you reach ESE and ELL students as well. Oftentimes we water down the standards, which only creates a larger learning gap. What we need to do is ask, “How do we get all students to reach the learning targets?” and “What supports do my students need in order to get there?” The scales give teachers an understanding of what adaptations they need to make so that all students—even those from certain subgroups—reach the targets.

Do you find that students take ownership of their learning when they understand what the outcome of their lessons should be?

Definitely. The more students are able to track their progress on a scale, the more they own their learning. And they’re able to tell the teacher when they’ve met the target. We also see students taking the initiative to study at home, whether they’re assigned homework or not. With targets in place, we’re seeing a lot more peer-to-peer work.

What else would you like readers to know?

Creating scales takes skill and practice to get to a point where it has a lasting effect. It’s not just picking the scale up at the beginning of class and referring to it at the end. It takes constant reference and constant monitoring of what the students are doing and how close they are getting to those targets. This process is a thread that runs through everything we do in the classroom, and it should be driving our instruction, our questions, and the tasks we assign. If you let the process happen, you’ll have a standards-aligned classroom because you’ve allowed it to drive all of those decisions in the classroom.


Often the students and teachers’ voices are left out of planning due to curriculum maps. The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms allows educators to comprehend what it means to put standards at the heart of their work while focusing on the students. Teachers are allowed to intentionally plan for their classroom through learning targets that are aligned to the highest level of the taxonomy. Rigor will be front and center of all classrooms with the support of this book.
Melissa S. Collins, 2014 West Tennessee Teacher of the Year
Creating & Using Learning Targets & Performance Scales does an excellent job of focusing on the real purpose for learning targets and scales. This was a very poorly implemented first step in many district evaluation programs, and the content in this book completely debunks those erroneous first directions.
Robin L. Oliveri, 2014 Leon County Schools (Florida) Teacher of the Year
I felt the ideas in Creating & Using Learning Targets & Performance Scales were applicable across all disciplines K–12. The overall idea, helping students become aware of their own learning, is larger than grade level or academic area.
Aaron Sitze, 2013 Oregon Teacher of the Year finalist

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