An integrated and aligned approach to curriculum, assessment, instruction, and professional development? Now we’re talking.
Many districts have worked hard in recent years to align curriculum with state and local academic standards. This alignment is important, especially with Common Core state standards on the horizon, but it's only the first step. In many cases, there has been no corresponding investment in assessment and professional development to ensure the delivery of standards-based curriculum. For example, district investment in professional development for teachers varies widely–from just 2% in some districts to over 5% in others. Yet even districts investing the most are not reaping the rewards of their investments because efforts are typically “fragmented,” not reinforced every day in the classroom, and are “one-size-fits-all” instead of tailored to what each teacher needs.
For many years DC Public Schools was one of the lowest performing urban school districts in the country. Severe enrollment declines served as a wake-up call and the district decided it was time to take action. After an initial focus on operations and effective staffing DCPS turned its attention to adopting rigorous, information-age standards. They adopted Common Core Standards but then needed to build the infrastrucure to help students meet those standards. According to Brian Pick, Chief of Teaching and Learning, DCPS "Great teachers have to be supported with rich content, professional development and assessment tools."
DCPS' strategy has four elements. First, a curriculum focused on the common core. In the past DCPS teachers had little support and typically developed lesson plans from scratch. Now "there is a wealth of resources in a central location to help teachers know what to teach every day" according to Pick. Second, job-embedded professional development centered around 113 in-classroom instructional coaches who work directly with teachers. Third, ongoing assessment throughout the year so teachers can continuously guage student performance and needs. Fourth, Interventions and Extensions. The district realized some students need extra support and they have developed the systems to deliver that support.
The early results are promising. When last assessed the percent of students in the lowest-performing 40 schools proficient in reading and math moved from single digits to over 40%. The district is confident they will continue to see improvement in the near term.
For more information see the District Story: "New Standards and Instructional Tools Empower DC Public Schools."