Years ago, at the height of the No Child Left Behind era, I visited a school that was working on mapping their curricula. Teams of teachers were huddled around chart papers in the library creating colorful timelines of units, standards, and assessments. The curious thing about the timelines was that they ended in the first week of March for several of the teams. They told me this was because that by the time the state testing window rolled around, they normally have covered all the standards. When I asked what comes after testing, they had a variety of ideas ranging from “fun” to “review” to “preparing the kids for next year when things really get hard.” A school year is more than 180 days, and your curriculum should leverage every one of them.
That same year working with a different school that was also striving to meet an AYP benchmark that had eluded them, I was shown a different version of a curriculum map from a team of eighth grade language arts teachers. This one was different in that it extended the whole school year. However, this one had a stop to the units and standards in early February with just a single box extending to March that said “test prep.” The team shared with me a comprehensive packet they had worked on for a few years to perfect. It included lessons on pre-reading questions before reading the passage, daily short answer prompts with checklists to remind students to use complete sentences and precise punctuation, and a comprehensive treatment of how to craft a superior five-paragraph essay.
“He has a rough home life, he will always struggle.”
“He can’t do the work, so I only make him do a portion of it.”
“He will never be able to do it, so why should I even bother?”
The three statements above didn’t come from a journal article or from observing a teacher. Each one was made about me as I was growing up as a knucklehead in Miami, FL: The first statement was made by my 1st grade teacher, the second by my 4th grade teacher, and the third by my 9th grade Algebra teacher. All three affected my psyche in various ways, all negative. However, these comments aren’t just about me. The statements above illustrate a much larger issue in public education today.
Katanna Conley, Ph.D.
The last time I did a curriculum implementation walkthrough with a district, the finding that stuck with me was both one of the most inspiring and the most frustrating. At schools where ELA scores were rising, the curriculum resources were in the hands of teachers and students alike. Books were open, student journals were marked up, stories were full of sticky note annotations. In schools where scores were stagnant or dropping, on the other hand, these same resources were pristine, unused, tucked away under desks or languishing on shelves. It was heartbreaking, frankly, to see materials that were clearly making a difference in some locations completely wasted and ignored in others.