By Patricia Wright

Editor’s note: The Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) has been endorsed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the Partnership for Collaborative Professional Learninging, which consists of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association/Foundation for Educational Administration (NJPSA/FEA), the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), Learning Forward NJ, the NJASCD, the Educational Information and Resource Center (ERIC), the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and NJEA. CAR has been implemented in several schools and districts in New Jersey that have been participating in a four-year pilot.

An overview of the CAR framework

The Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) framework represents a systemic approach to building the capacity of educators by developing professional learning community (PLC) teams that are focused on curriculum, instruction and assessment. It puts the ownership for instructional decisions back where it belongs—in the hands of the educators who teach our students.

CAR uses an easy-to-remember and easy-to-follow metaphor of a journey. Student learning as the destination, a collaboratively developed, viable curriculum as the map, PLCs as the vehicle, assessments as the guideposts, teacher/principal effectiveness as the drivers and climate and culture as the terrain.

CAR is not a program. It is a process for building the key components of effective schools. The process will look different in every school and every district depending on decisions made at the local level.

CAR is not a step-by-step process that says if you just do “this,” you will see student improvement. We have been sold that bill of goods throughout our careers, and it has resulted in an unproductive trend to outsource our professional practice. CAR represents the structures and processes needed to improve schools from within. It is an opportunity for schools to shift from a focus on compliance to a focus on practice and to set the foundation for a strong system of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

We hope we can send educators a different message—not about reform but refocus—a refocus on the practice of education.

Understanding the vision

Let’s use the analogy of a journey to understand the CAR vision.

The Destination

Every school starts from a different location; however, every school is focused on the same destination: student learning. The CAR framework uses a set of guiding questions to establish a schoolwide focus on student learning:

  1. What do we want students to know?
  2. What strategies do students need in order to master the student learning objectives?
  3. What instructional activities will help teach students the content, skills, and strategies they need to master the student learning objectives?
  4. How do we know when they know them?
  5. What do we do if they don’t or already do?
  6. How can we best address these questions in order to build knowledge, skills, and strategies effectively and consistently across grade levels and content areas?

The vehicle

If we are to reach our destination, we need a vehicle to get us there. That vehicle is the PLC. It is the job of collaborative teams to answer guiding questions. The CAR framework outlines 10 conversations that PLC teams must have to provide the most effective answers to the guiding questions. (See PLC Conversations list below.)

The Connected Action Roadmap can provide a coherent process for school improvement, rather than isolated “reforms.”

A map or GPS

The next tool required for the journey is a map or GPS. The answers to the guiding questions make up the curriculum map. This map must include the standards, the agreed-upon specific student learning objectives unpacked from those standards, and the effective instructional plan that will ensure that all students reach the destination by mastering those objectives. Curriculum must be directly related to daily lessons in order to truly drive instructional decisions. This must mean more than just simply putting the standard number on lesson plans and calling it alignment. True alignment comes through PLC discussions regarding the connection between standards, student learning objectives, instruction and assessment.

The guideposts

Even if we have a viable map, we also need some guideposts along the way like the gas station on the right or the shopping mall on the left. Common formative and summative assessments are educators’ guideposts. They allow us to determine daily if students are getting closer to the destination or if they have veered off in the wrong direction. The elements represented by the circles inside the framework (see illustration) represent the practice of education—PLC teams collaboratively use guiding questions to develop, implement, reflect on and revise curriculum based on student data.

The terrain

In the illustration, notice the perimeter of the framework—the terrain on which each school travels—the culture of the school. The culture is made up of three components: the climate, the degree of shared leadership and the effective communication of connections. A school’s culture can be the greatest asset or the greatest barrier to the collaborative process of enhancing teacher practice and student learning.

The drivers

Finally, the knowledge, skills and abilities of teachers and principals are drivers on this journey. The more educators engage in conversations related to curriculum, instruction and assessment, the more effective they become. The more effective they become, the more effective the collaborative process becomes, creating a true cycle of continuous school improvement. Evaluation systems will only be effective in improving learning if both teachers and administrators are engaged in meaningful, ongoing and focused conversations about their practice and student learning.

CAR puts the ownership for instructional decisions back where it belongs—in the hands of the educators who teach our students.

Taking action toward the vision

Earlier this year, talented teams of educators from across the state worked with the NJDOE Office of Standards and Assessment to unpack the English language arts (ELA) and math standards into clear specific learning goals and place them into suggested units of study—the first two conversations of the CAR process.

These units are available on the NJDOE website, Districts can now have teams of teachers build out the units of study by engaging in the rest of the CAR conversations, which are focused on implementing, reflecting on, and revising the curriculum.

Why unpack the standards into clear student learning objectives? What are the potential outcomes of shared student learning objectives and shared units of study?

  1. Alignment: In many schools, every teacher creates their own student learning objectives for their daily lessons. How does this ensure that every teacher’s objective is well-aligned to the standard? If every teacher in one grade level and/or content area uses different student learning objectives, how can they collaboratively collect and analyze assessment data?
  2. Equity: For years, many people have looked at our statewide assessments through the lens of creating equity. We cannot assess our way to equity; we teach our way to equity. If every teacher has their own interpretation of a standard, how do we know that students in every district are being taught lesson goals that will support their mastery of a standard? How do we ensure that we have equitable instruction in every classroom in a school building, never mind in every district across the state?
  3. Capacity: PLC teams that have regular conversations focused on curriculum, instruction and assessment can enhance the practice of every team member and support the learning of all students in one grade level and or content area. Imagine ELA or math grade level teams coming together to share best practices related to instruction and assessment of specific student learning objectives in specific units of study. Imagine having a statewide online platform to share instructional strategies and resources, common formative or summative assessments, successful intervention strategies and more.

The DOE Instructional Units will not be mandated. This is not an effort in compliance. This is a joint effort to create systemwide change and enhance the potential of every educator in the state to support every student in the state in reaching their greatest potential.

PLC Conversations:

Developing, Delivering, Reflecting on, and Revisiting a Viable Curriculum

The CAR framework uses a set of guiding questions, listed in this article, to establish a schoolwide focus on student learning. The CAR framework outlines 10 conversations that PLC teams must have to provide the most effective answers to the guiding questions. They are:

  1. Unpack the standards into clear, specific, student-friendly learning objectives.
  2. Cluster the student learning objectives into units of study.
  3. Create essential questions.
  4. Create summative assessments including rubrics, exemplars and non-exemplars.
  5. Design pre-assessments to establish the readiness of each student to learn.
  6. Design learning experiences including instructional activities, student learning strategies and formative assessments – ALIGNMENT IS KEY.
  7. Analyze formative assessment data throughout the unit to drive instructional planning, differentiation and timely interventions.
  8. Analyze summative assessment data to monitor student progress, revise unit learning experiences, revise unit assessments, seek targeted professional learning, set goals.
  9. Discuss the Career Ready Practices and Social Emotional Learning Competencies and embed them in units of study.
  10. Discuss grading philosophy, policies and procedures. Strive for consistency.

Final thoughts

In closing, I want to thank the DOE and the educational organizations in New Jersey for believing in this vision and for coming together to model collaboration on behalf of our students.

We hope we can send educators a different message—not about reform but refocus—a refocus on the practice of education. Our message is one of process and practice, not programs and compliance. It is my hope that we can continue to work together and to support educators who want to explore the possibilities the CAR vision can have for their own schools and districts. 

Patricia Wright is the executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. She has been a teacher, reading specialist, assistant principal, principal and superintendent. She also served as the chair of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force and co-authored the New Jersey Bar Foundation’s Anti-Bullying Curriculum. She is the developer of the Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) which she writes about here. A recipient of the Dr. Ernest L. Boyer Outstanding Educator Award by the New Jersey Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NJASCD) in 2018, Wright can be reached at

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