Teachers and administrators in Frederick County Public Schools have worked throughout the summer to prepare for curriculum changes taking effect when school begins Aug. 27.
The shift is part of the school district’s transition to the Common Core State Standards — adopted by 48 states and the District of Columbia.
Beginning this year, Frederick County’s third- through fifth-graders will transition to the common core in math, and prekindergarten through second grade students will adopt the new English curriculum.
Under the common core, students will focus more on nonfiction texts and be exposed to more rigorous math lessons early on.
This year marks the second phase of the county’s transition to the common core, with the curriculum expected to be fully implemented by the 2013-14 school year.
During the past school year and throughout the summer, teams of local teachers and administrators have spent dozens of hours studying the standards, matching them with the right resources for teachers and ensuring that their assessments are aligned with the new curriculum.
Although tweaking and polishing will continue throughout the school year, officials feel they are ahead of the curve in terms of implementing the curriculum.
“We have the most aggressive timeline in the state of Maryland,” said Chris Horne, the school system’s elementary curriculum specialist for math. “It is an ongoing project.”
Created by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the new Common Core State Standards Initiative is a states-led effort aiming to ensure that students across the United States are being prepared to meet the same expectations in math and English and language arts. The idea behind the initiative was to ensure that American students come out of school ready for college and careers and are competitive in a global market.
In 2010, Maryland became one of the first states to adopt the Common Core standards, and educators statewide have been working since then to develop a curriculum based on the standards.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — a consortium of 25 states — is developing new tests aligned with the common core, which will be implemented in 2014-15.
Last year, the Frederick County school system replaced its controversial elementary math textbook, “Investigations in Numbers, Data and Space,” also known as TERC math, which had been criticized for not teaching standard math facts and algorithms. So when a task force of educators and parents recommended schools replace the textbook with two new elementary math textbooks, officials used the opportunity to start phase one of the common core alignment — ahead of schedule.
Last year, 140 educators in the county logged 5,000 work hours preparing for the change.
Educators this year have been building upon that effort.
“It is exciting. There is a lot of fresh, new energy going toward math,” Horne said. “This year, the textbook is the same but the standards are new.”
In math, school- and central-office based educators have been working in small groups since the spring to fix glitches with the prekindergarten-to-second grade curriculum and to map out a plan for the second phase of the math transition. During the summer, educators continued to build up printed and electronic resources for teachers in the coming year.
The resources will be presented to teachers at a teachers’ conference in the county on Aug. 6. The teams will continue meeting throughout the school year to monitor issues and to provide more professional development for teachers.
Educators volunteered to participate in the summer preparations and were paid their normal salary.
“We do this because we like it,” said Jennifer Clausen, a targeted intervention teacher at North Frederick Elementary. As part of the common core shift, Clausen will serve as the math “go-to” person at her school in addition to her other duties. Though this will not be a paid position, officials are hoping to establish a “math curriculum expert” figure at each school in the county.
The change this year will make math in grades three to five more challenging and students will have to acquire skills earlier than they have ever done before, she said. For example, instead of only identifying fractions, third-grade students will be required to use them in different operations, such as division and multiplication, she said.
English and language arts also will change, said Karen McGaha, the district’s curriculum specialist for elementary language arts.
Students will have to write more and instead of focusing on just fiction, will be exposed equally to fiction and nonfiction, McGaha said in an email.
“[Students] will be exposed to more complex text than has been the case with the current curriculum,” she wrote.
School officials started preparing for the transition last year as they aligned pre-k to second-grade assessments to the new standards. In April, teams of educators compiled resources to match the new standards, which continued in workshops held through June and July.
English language learners and special education teachers also took part in that process, creating resources targeting the specific needs of their populations, McGaha said.
The second phase of the language arts transition will be completed in 2013-14 and will affect students in grades three to five.