As we are about to wrap up another year, I wanted to take some time to tell you about the curriculum work that was accomplished this year. Parents of elementary students are well aware that we planned for 8 Mondays without students in grades K -6 so that teachers would have time to work on a very important part of what we do at school.
It is important you understand that education in Nebraska has reached the point where we teach to the test; with the “test” being the state assessment. Schools are now rated in one of four categories; needs improvement, good, great, and excellent, and student scores on state assessments makes up the majority of the score. For us, scoring is also broken down as district, elementary, middle school, and high school. A lot of data about our testing was included in the Annual Report that came out earlier this year.
Saying we are “teaching to the test” is just a short way of saying it is very important that our curriculum aligns with the state standards so that the what and when of instruction matches the what and when of state testing. (What refers to standards, when refers to grade level). Said another way, we need to be teaching the third graders the same stuff that third graders will be tested over. A big part of the what and when is making sure that we have no duplications or gaps in the sequence of what is being taught. Needless to say, it takes quite a bit of time for each grade level to study their standards and communicate with the grades above and below to ensure there are no duplications and omissions.
So from the teacher’s stand point, what exactly did this work include? First things were to fully understand each standard, prioritize them, and put them in student friendly terms. Next they needed to determine if in our current curriculum we were duplicating or omitting standards from grade to grade. Then comes matching our curriculum materials (text books, etc.) to each standard. This whole process was completed for about 20 standards each in the Language Arts areas of Reading, Writing, Listening/Speaking, and Multiple Literacies for each grade K-12. The same process was completed for at least 10 standards each in the Math areas of Geometry, Algebra, Number sense, and Data for each grade K-12. A quick tally reveals that each teacher worked with at least 80 standards in Language Arts and 40 standards in Math.
The Nebraska Department of Education has provided a short list of curriculum materials that they feel best meet Nebraska’s state standards. It is time to replace our math textbook series, so the teachers have begun looking at the various math series on the NDE list, but they have not completed that task. To provide them additional time this year to wind up that work, we will be dismissing school at 11:30 (before lunch) on Wednesday, May 15. This is the last day for students. The teachers will then continue working on the math selection process that afternoon.
In the near future, elementary parents can plan on seeing report cards that are standards based. It is too soon to share what those will look like, but that will be something the teachers will work on.
This article has been an attempt to explain the time and process completed this year on moving our district forward in improving instruction of the standards that the state of Nebraska has determined are most important for our students to learn. Please call me at 308-387-4323 or email me at email@example.com if you have questions or comments.
Thank you for reading this article, and thank you for a great year! Tom Sandberg, Supt.