New curriculum puts Grand Valley schools on same schedule

New statewide curriculum standards will mean new lessons and expectations for School District 51 students when the standards go into effect next month.

Senate Bill 212, passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2008, required the state to formulate new model content standards for 13 subjects. The new standards, finalized in December, are more rigorous, concise and focused on preparing students for college or the workforce after graduation, according to Jody Mimmack, District 51’s executive director of instructional support.

The new standards will require students to learn some lessons a grade or two sooner than previous students did. For example, the new standards require fourth-grade students to be able to add or subtract fractions, and fifth-graders will have to know how to multiply fractions. Previous standards didn’t require District 51 students to master those lessons until middle school, according to Julie Schmalz, a curriculum specialist with the school district.

“Gap” units have been built into the coming school year to make sure students will learn any lessons they would otherwise miss because a lesson was shifted to another grade level.

The amount of shifting teachers will have to do to accommodate new standards will vary by district because the state used to require schools to teach lessons within a band of two or three grade levels.

“The new standards are grade-by-grade,” Schmalz said, so all schools and all districts will learn certain concepts in the same grade.

That unity is helpful for students who switch schools midyear, Mimmack said.

“Kids won’t have to redo anything they already did, and they won’t have to start something they have no background on” in a new school, she said.

The office Mimmack oversees, District 51’s Office of Instructional Support, spent all of the second semester this year sorting through the standards and putting together guides that explain which concepts have to be learned in which grades.

Instruction-office employees authored pacing guides for teachers to follow, outlining which units students should be taught in order and about how many days should be spent on each unit. If they need help forming a lesson plan, there’s even guidance for that. All information about the new curriculum is online, and teachers and parents can view it at any time from any computer.

Some teachers think the guides are helpful and will take a lot of the guesswork out of making sure teachers stick to the new content standards, Mimmack said. But she has heard some criticism.

“There are a couple critics who say, ‘I guess I’m not a professional anymore. Why don’t you just video stream somebody’ ” to teach a class? Mimmack said.

The district will debut new curricula this fall for core subjects such as math, science, social studies and English. The district will work on teaching guides for electives, art, physical education and music this year and implement new curricula for those subjects next year.

The subjects that gained priority for implementation are mostly the ones the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. That’s not a coincidence, Mimmack said.

“All this was driven by the new assessment in 2014” that will test students based on the new content standards, she said. Students will take the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program test in 2012 and 2013, which blends new and old standards.


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