Standard for district success 1: curriculum




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STANDARD FOR DISTRICT SUCCESS 1: CURRICULUM

The district develops and implements a curriculum that is rigorous, intentional, aligned to state goals and content standards, and ensures seamless student transitions.


Abstract

The curriculum – what teachers teach - has a powerful affect on student achievement. The curriculum in high performing districts is meaningful, coherent, and aligned to state content standards and assessments. In these districts, teachers and administrators, with the support of central office staff, play a vital role in achieving curricular alignment and coherence at the classroom, school, and district levels.


Current research supports the development of a rigorous common academic core for all students, especially at the secondary level.1 Research on the value of a rigorous academic curriculum and its relationship to student performance is unambiguous; academic achievement is directly related to challenging coursework. According to research, student learning, as measured by test scores, increases when students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum. This effect is particularly strong at the high school level where, for example, students who complete a full sequence of college preparatory mathematics courses score higher on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) than those who complete only one or two courses.2 In addition to influencing learning as measured by test scores, academic rigor is also a powerful predictor of college success, especially for students of color. The academic intensity and quality the high school curriculum contributes more to college success than test scores and academic GPA.3 This research confirms what teachers have always known namely that children will rise to the expectations adults set for them.


Yet, despite this strong evidence, many students are relegated to remedial courses that neither challenge them nor prepare them for postsecondary education or the workplace. Students, especially low income students, students of color and English language learners, lack equal access to rigorous coursework. The differential access to rigorous coursework has been documented by many studies. According to recent statistics by the U.S. Department of Education, African American and Latino high school students are less likely to complete advanced math and English coursework than white students. This pattern holds true of low-income students as well.4 The disparities in access to coursework reflect both “opportunities offered’ by schools and “opportunities taken” by students.5 In some cases, this is because not all high schools offer advanced courses. For example, according to research, about one-third of high schools do not offer any advanced courses in science and another 28 percent offer advanced work only in one science subject, most commonly biology.6 Schools with high proportions of low-income students offer fewer and less-advanced mathematics courses than offered by schools with high proportions of high-income students. Even at schools with extensive advanced course offerings, students of color and low-income students are disproportionately underrepresented in advanced classes. It is clear that a rigorous common core curriculum for all students is an essential strategy for both improving student performance and narrowing the achievement gap.7


Curriculum coherence and alignment are well-documented in the research on effective classrooms, schools, districts, and in the research on educational change. According to this extensive body of evidence, the curriculum in high performing districts is aligned to state curriculum goals and content standards; aligned across classrooms, grade levels and schools; and is connected to effective instructional practices and assessments.8 Researchers found that when the curriculum is aligned vertically and horizontally, it serves as a “curricular roadmap” for teachers and administrators.9 Studies suggest that an aligned curriculum facilitates seamless transitions for students across grade levels and school structures, as well as to post-secondary education and the workplace.10

High performing districts achieve curricular coherence and alignment through an articulated process of monitoring, evaluating, and reviewing the curriculum.11 Providing teachers and administrators the time to review data and information, including item analyses from state assessments, and to discuss the curriculum standards was found to be essential in achieving an successful alignment of the curriculum. At the district level, leaders and central office staff support alignment by establishing frameworks, guidelines, and quality standards to unify curriculum planning ensuring that it is consistent at the district, school, and classroom levels.12 In high performing districts central office staff provide direct support for building and classroom curriculum efforts, as well as conduct district-wide curriculum alignment and review efforts to ensure consistency across schools.13


Research supports the integration of workplace readiness skills into the curriculum and the provision of opportunities for career related learning experiences.14 Although more students are completing advanced coursework, graduating from high school, and enrolling in postsecondary education than ever before, research indicates they often lack the essential skills required for success beyond high school, either in work or post-secondary education.15 A startling set of statistics points to the vast disconnect between what students are expected to learn in high school and the knowledge and skills required for success after high school.16


Strategies for preparing students for work in the modern economy include organizing the curriculum, especially at the secondary level, around broad occupational themes17; focusing on developing skills required for modern work environments including problem-solving and decision-making and critical thinking skills18; providing learning opportunities which foster the development of qualities essential for success in the workplace such as dependability, cooperation, adaptability, and self-discipline; and using work-based learning experiences to reinforce basic skills.19


Bibliography


Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor degree attainment. Washington DC, U.S. Department of Education.

American Diploma Project (2004). Ready or not: Creating a high school diploma that counts., Achieve, Inc.

Berryman, S. E. (1991). Designing effective learning environments: Cognitive apprenticeship models. New York, NY, Columbia University, Institute on Education and the Economy.

Carnevale, A. P. and D. Desrochers (2003). Standards for what: The economic roots of K-16 reform. Princeton, Educational Testing Service.

Cawelti, G. and N. Protheroe (2001). High student achievement: How six school districts changed into high-performance systems. Arlington, Educational Research Service.

Cotton, K. (2000). The schooling practices that matter most. Portland, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Education Trust (2003). A core curriculum for all: Aiming high for other people's children. Thinking K-16. 7.

Finn, J. D. (1999). "Opportunity offered-opportunity taken: course-taking in American high schools." ETS Policy Notes 9(1).

Gregson, J. A. (1992). "Effective pedagogical strategies for work attitudes instruction." Journal of Industrial Teacher Education 29(3).

Raglan, M. A., R. Asera, et al. (1999). Urgency, responsibility, and efficacy: Preliminary findings of a study of high performing Texas school districts. Austin, Charles C. Dana Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Skrla, L., J. Scheurick, et al. (2000). Equity-driven achievement focused school districts: A report of systemic school success in four Texas school districts serving diverse student populations. Austin, Charles A. Dana Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Snipes, J., F. Doolittle, et al. (2002). Foundations for success: Case studies of how urban school systems improve student achievement. Washington DC, Council of Great City Schools.

Stasz, C., D. McArthur, et al. (1990). Teaching and learning generic skills for the workplace. Santa Monica, RAND Corporation.

Stasz, C., K. Ramsey, et al. (1993). Classrooms that work: Teaching generic skills in academic and vocational settings. Santa Monica, RAND Corporation.

Togneri, W. and S. E. Anderson (2003). Beyond islands of excellence: What districts can do to improve instruction and achievement in all schools. Alexandria, Learning First Alliance.

U.S. Department of Education (2000). NAEP 1999 Longterm trends. Washington DC, National Center for Education Statistics.

U.S. Department of Education (2004). Condition of education 2004. Washington DC, National Center for Education Statistics.

Urquiola, M., D. Stern, et al. (1997). School to work, college, and career: A review of policy, practice, and results (1993-1997). Berkeley, National Center for Research in Vocational Education.


STANDARD FOR DISTRICT SUCCESS 2: INSTRUCTION

The school’s instructional program actively engages all students by using effective, varied, and evidence-based practices to improve student academic performance. The district provides evidence-based, results-driven professional development opportunities for staff and implements performance evaluation procedures in order to improve teaching and learning.


Abstract

Good teaching matters. High performing districts maintain a targeted focus on teaching and learning and have a clear and articulated strategy for improving instruction. Effective teachers demonstrate a mastery of content knowledge and diverse pedagogical methods; possess expertise and skill in the use and analysis of student performance data; and are culturally competent. Professional development is the link between reform policy and classroom practice. High performing districts have an articulated system-wide strategy for using professional development that is informed by principles about the process of systemic change.


Program

High performing schools and districts maintain a targeted focus on teaching and learning and have a clear and articulated strategy for improving instruction.20 In contrast to most districts, districts that effectively support school level improvement adopt a system focus on teaching and learning and establish instructional goals that are clear, measurable and specific.21 District wide, educators at all levels of the system emphasize the importance of teaching and learning. In these districts the central office is described as an instructional leader; they assist with improvement efforts by helping build and coordinate the capacity of schools for teaching and learning that boosts student achievement. For example, recognizing the importance of instructional leadership and support for their reform efforts, Cambridge Public Schools created a high level position, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, and an integrated instructional division to bolster district capacity in this domain.22


According to research, the instructional program in effective schools and districts is aligned to school, district and state learning goals and assessments.23 Teachers utilize a variety of instructional strategies to meet the diverse learning needs of their students and continually monitor the effect of their instructional approaches on student achievement.24 Research also points to the value of using educational technology for instructional support.25 Some effective uses of technology include using computers and word processing to foster the development of writing skills; enhancing lessons with integrated video media, CD-ROM technology, and Internet research; using software that provides students immediate real-time feedback on their responses and identifies problems; and providing activities that simulate workplace uses of computers and other technology to build employability skills for all students. 26


Personnel

Good teaching matters. According to studies of school effects, teacher experience is the variable most strongly related to student achievement.27 For example, the proportion of well-qualified teachers (e.g., fully certified, with a major in their assigned subject) is the strongest and most consistent predictor of state performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests.28 Conversely, the proportions of teachers who were new to the profession, uncertified, or lacked even a minor in their assigned subject area are the strongest negative predictors of a state’s student achievement. In one study, teacher expertise29 accounted for roughly 40 percent of the variance in student achievement on standardized tests in reading and mathematics. Moreover, when controlling for the income level of students, the effects of teacher expertise are so strong that the achievement gap between African American and white students is almost entirely explained by differences in teacher qualifications.30


Students taught by experienced teachers perform better than those taught by inexperienced teachers, regardless of the student’s initial achievement level, According to one study, on average, the least effective teachers produce gains of about 14 percentile points among low-achieving students during a school year whereas the most effective teachers post gains among low-achieving students that average 53 percentile points.31


What are the characteristics of effective teachers? Numerous studies, both quantitative and qualitative, and research summaries have addressed this question. A review of this literature reveals three major areas of effective teaching behavior: effective classroom management; active engagement of students using a wide variety of teaching skills and techniques including a focus on individual students’ needs; and efficient use of instructional time.32 Research also suggests that effective teachers are those who demonstrate mastery of content knowledge and diverse pedagogical methods necessary to challenge and motivate all students to high levels of learning.33


According to a growing body of research effective teachers possess the knowledge, skills, and instructional practices necessary to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse student population,34 While culture does not determine a child’s ability or intelligence, it can produce many different ways of knowing and learning. Culturally competent teachers understand the role culture plays in learning and find ways to connect the knowledge students learn in school to their everyday lives.35 Culturally sensitive instruction aims to facilitate the ability of all students to meet high standards, using approaches best suited to meeting students’ individual needs.


The features of culturally sensitive instruction are closely aligned with what educators and researchers recognize simply as good teaching. Culturally sensitive teaching is characterized by a pro-student philosophy; all students are seen as having the inherent resources and ability to experience academic success. Culturally sensitive instruction capitalizes on each child’s strengths, viewing cultural ways of learning as resources to be used rather than deficits to be remedied. Culturally sensitive teaching is based on the premise that there is no single best method that will effectively reach all students at all times. Instead, effective teachers diversity their instructional approaches in response to individual students’ interests and abilities. Finally, a central feature of culturally sensitive instruction is its emphasis on the maintenance of high expectations and high academic standards for all students. 36


Effective instruction is based on students’ needs, which are determined through ongoing monitoring of their learning progress. Effective teachers demonstrate expertise and skill in the use and analysis of student performance data to inform instruction. Studies of high performing districts consistently identify data-driven instructional improvement as the cornerstone of school improvement.37 Moreover, studies of schools that have successfully narrowed the achievement gap identify a teacher’s understanding of data and their ability to link data to instructional practice as an essential component.38 In these districts, central office staff serve a support function, providing teachers guidance on data analysis and interpretation.39


The kinds of monitoring efforts that characterize effective schools include: reviewing student performance data routinely to identify and support students needs; establishing procedures for collecting, summarizing and reporting aggregated and disaggregated data; using assessment methods in addition to standardized achievement tests; aligning classroom assessments with written curriculum and instruction; and making summaries of student performance available to staff, parents, and community members.40


Professional Development

Early research on the connection between professional development and student learning focused primarily on “generic” teaching skills such as allocating class time, providing clear classroom demonstrations, assessing student comprehension during lectures, maintaining attention, and grouping students. These studies showed small to moderate positive effects on student’s basic skills.41 More recent research probed deeper into student learning by focusing on students’ reasoning skills and problem solving potentials rather than only basic skills. According to this research, professional development can influence teachers’ classroom practices significantly and lead to improved student achievement when it focuses on: 1) how students learn particular subject matter; 2) instructional practices that are specifically related to the subject matter and how students understand it; 3) strengthening teachers’ knowledge of specific-subject matter content. According to one study, student achievement was consistently higher and growth in students’ basic and advanced reasoning skills was greatest when their teachers’ professional development focused on how students learn and how to gauge that learning effectively.42 Professional development that is rooted in subject matter and focused on student learning can have a significant impact on student achievement.


However, to be effective, professional development must provide teachers with a way to directly apply what they learn to their teaching. Professional development leads to better instruction and improved student learning when it connects to the curriculum materials that teachers use, the district and state academic standards that guide their work; and the assessment and accountability measures that evaluate their success.43 Studies suggest the more time teachers spend on professional development the more significantly they change their practices. It is clear, however, that more time by itself is insufficient. Rather, professional development must focus on the subject-matter content that research has shown to be effective.


Effective professional development must extend beyond mere support for teachers’ acquisition of new skills or knowledge to providing authentic occasions for teachers to reflect critically on their practice and to fashion new knowledge and beliefs about content, pedagogy, and learners.

Research suggests participating in professional learning communities is a promising strategy.44 Effective professional development involves teachers as both learners and teachers and allows them to struggle with the uncertainties that accompany each role.45 According to research on teacher learning, effective professional development has the following characteristics:


  1. It engages teachers in concrete tasks of teaching, assessment, observation, and reflection that illuminate the processes of learning and development.

  2. It is grounded in inquiry, reflection, and experimentation by teachers.

  3. It is collaborative among educators and focuses on team learning.

  4. It is connected to and derived from teachers' work with their students.

  5. It is sustained, ongoing, intensive, and supported by modeling, coaching, and collective problem solving about specific practices.46

While all districts engage in some form of professional development, most lack a serious strategy for using professional development to drive system-wide changes in instruction. Research has begun to document the role school districts can play in systemic school improvement and the role of professional development in connecting reform policy to classroom practice.47


Through an analysis of New York City’s District 2, Elmore and Burney (1997) outline what it means to use professional development to improve instruction district-wide. Specifically, District 2’s strategy consisted of 1) a set of organizing principles about the process of systemic change and the role of professional development in that process and 2) a set of models of staff development that focuses on system-wide improvement of instruction.48

Districts that effectively support school improvement provide instructional support that is responsive to school needs. According to research, the instructional supports provided schools by these “reforming districts” differ in both kind and degree from resources typically furnished schools in other districts. Specifically, they are of a very high quality, they are intensive and site-focused, and they are designed in response to teachers’ expressed needs and evidence about student learning.49


According to studies of high performing districts, strategies for using professional development to drive improvement district-wide include: establishing a clear vision that focuses teachers and administrators on improving instruction; specifying the outcomes expected for students and schools; creating district-wide curricula to guide instruction; using data at every level to inform the work, and creating a coherent set of strategies to support and improve instruction.50


A culture of professional learning is evident in districts where professional development drives improvement.51 When districts provide teachers the time and opportunity to meet together to analyze data, plan the curriculum, examine and discuss student work, and observe other teachers in the classroom, teachers report improved feelings of efficacy and effectiveness.52 Indeed, many districts developed strategies for drawing on the “in-house” expertise of staff by developing district-wide cadres and networks of instructional experts.53


Coordinated, focused and cohesive investment in and delivery of teacher development is a critical component of the district effort to lead instructional excellence. Effective districts sets priorities and a framework for professional development, but delegate control of professional development to schools. New York City’s District Two is an example of a district reform effort that focused on major investment in teacher professional development. It required strong leadership, examination of the networks and structures that provide existing professional development and willingness to challenge them, and stable resources to ensure follow through and continuity.54


Likewise, San Diego is an example of a district that pursued a system-wide approach to improving instruction. San Diego’s approach to school improvement is rooted in powerful ideas about learning and instruction and features investment in people at the system level. Former Chancellor Alvarado and the Institute for Learning made the learning and professional growth of the district’s educators their top priority and keystone in the district reform initiative. Most notably, the district structures opportunities for educators to learn together and from each other. The district is divided into nine “Learning Communities” which bring together principals to engage in research, reflection and shared experiences. Data indicated

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