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Your Curriculum May Not Be Aligned, and You Might not Know It
This article was originally published in SEEN Magazine.
If you work in the district curriculum office, this statement may be what keeps you up at night: Districts and schools have worked diligently to implement the College and Career Standards.
From my own journey, I know how difficult it can be to truly implement the Core Shifts, and I know it is even more difficult to recognize whether your curriculum is properly aligned.
In fact, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, only seven percent of Florida classrooms observed had instruction which was fully aligned to the Florida standards, with 26 percent partially aligned, and 67 percent not meeting the full intent and rigor of the standards. Yet, upwards of 70 percent of teachers and school leaders believe their school is prepared to or has already made the shift to the standards.
Further, research and findings from studies like School Supports for Teachers’ Implementation of School Standards, Kaufman and Tsai, and EDNET’s State of the K-12 Market Reports indicate a perception gap in the implementation of rigorous standards.
Trying to Fit a Square Peg into a Round Hole
When I worked in a district office, I myself experienced this perception gap. I studied the Core Shifts, attended workshops, and attempted to implement the shifts into curriculum development. I thought I completely understood the shifts because they didn’t seem difficult from a surface level. Like many curriculum developers, I attempted to retrofit the standards and shifts into my existing mental model for reading instruction. What makes College and Career Standards different?
- Complexity: Practice regularly with complex text and its academic language.
- Evidence: Ground reading, writing, and speaking in evidence from text, both literary and informational.
- Knowledge: Build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.
- Focus strongly where the standards focus.
- Coherence: Think across grades and link to major topics within grades.
- Rigor: In major topics, pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity.
What I didn’t realize at the time was the complexity of the shifts at the daily implementation level, and the number of pieces that must fit together to create an aligned system.
Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, I needed to change the hole itself. The College and Career Readiness Standards call for us to deconstruct our teaching practices and use new approaches, but initially, I didn’t have the concrete strategies or research base to develop a new approach. No doubt, many districts share my past struggles, and after nearly 10 years of implementation, many still use the term “the new standards.”
What’s Getting in the Way
While curriculum teams, instructional coaches and teachers work hard to implement College and Career Standards, there is little evidence their curricula is being implemented as intended.
In my work around the country with district and curriculum offices, three factors appear to get in the way:
- Curriculum materials;
- The way curriculum is provided to teachers and the ease of use for teachers; and
- Evidence of implementation in the classroom
The first issue is the curriculum materials. Many teachers are building and rebuilding their own curriculums using ad hoc systems and varying resources. This finding is corroborated by an EdNet study on where teachers go for their resources — 97 percent use Google, 85 percent use Pinterest, 79 percent use Teachers Pay Teachers, and 39 percent use EngageNY.
Many teachers seek out their own resources and create their own curriculums because of the second factor: ease of use of curriculum materials. I find that many teachers who use the provided curriculum are overwhelmed in a whirlwind of different documents. The result is that teachers attempt to fit together the puzzle pieces of the standards, shifts and practices.
For example, each grade level has 40 to 50 math standards, three math shifts and eight Standards for mathematical practices. Teachers also need to factor in where each student is in their learning, who needs extra support and who needs to be challenged.
Teachers typically schedule 45 minutes or less each day for lesson-planning, but EdNet found that teachers were spending an average of seven hours a week searching for resources and five hours per week creating their own materials.
Allow the Core Shifts to Become the Foundation
The curricula provided to teachers must be more user-friendly. Think of teachers as “customers.” Instead of giving them surface-level lists of the Core Shifts and practices, empower them to fully understand how the shifts and the standards work together in the classroom. Teachers will ultimately become critical consumers.
To do this, the Core Shifts cannot be simply a factor in curriculum development, they need to become the foundation of all curriculum work.
Instead of retrofitting the standards to our existing curriculum structures, use the shifts to re-map the approach to curriculum development. The shifts are the research behind the standards. Without the shifts, we will not get to the full intent and rigor of the standards.
The good news is that alignment will increase when curricula is rebuilt with the Core Shifts as the basis. Start by fully understanding the complexity of the Core Shifts, then embed the shifts into a specific daily lesson planning process. Your curriculum will be aligned, and you will know it.