Montclair’s Chief Academic Officer Gail Clarke (former principal of Nishuane Elementary School) gave a report at the July 15 BOE meeting on this summer’s work to develop curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as well as to develop common quarterly assessments. The district has sent the following detailed press release about the progress of the development:
At the July 15, 2013 Montclair Public Schools Board of Education meeting, Chief Academic Officer Gail Clarke reported to BOE members that this summer’s work to develop curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as well as to develop common quarterly assessments was progressing well. The CCSS, which public school districts across New Jersey were required to implement in phases beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, will be fully implemented in all grades this school year. The common quarterly assessments were introduced in the district’s strategic plan and will be used to check students’ progress toward learning objectives. Several teachers involved in the process also presented to BOE members and answered their questions.
Ms. Clarke explained that over 100 teachers in grades K-12, representing all buildings, are collaborating on 53 curriculum/assessment teams which began meeting in mid-June. The full group meets weekly, while sub-committees convene more frequently. Curriculum and assessments are being developed for: grade K-5 reading, writing and math; grade 6-8 English/language arts, math, science and social studies; grade 9-12 math, language arts, science, social studies, as well as individual teams for Montclair High School’s small learning communities, in recognition of their thematic differences.
The work is being “chunked” into four major topics and approached in the following sequence: standards, student learning objectives, common assessments, and resources. Before the full group of educators tackles each of the “chunks” identified above, participants receive professional development (PD) to facilitate the work in that area.
Middle school math teacher Emmett Murphy told BOE members, “The CCSS will serve our students better than the previous standards because they emphasize real-life application of formulas and math concepts and require students to explain in writing why a formula works.” He also noted that the working groups have received a great deal of support from the Academic Office and that the PD has been very helpful.
The drafts of the first of four units planned for the year in each subject area will be posted by the district in early August for all teachers to review and offer feedback; the final version for Unit 1 will be posted for use by mid-August. Ms. Clarke emphasized that curriculum/assessment development is an ongoing, organic process and that feedback from teachers on curriculum units taught and assessments administered this school year, as well as assessment data, will be incorporated into next year’s curriculum and assessments to continually improve them.
While curriculum writing initiatives have occurred before, the scope and numbers of teachers involved in this effort are unprecedented in recent history for the Montclair Public Schools. Both Mr. Murphy and middle school science teacher Delia Maloy cited the advantages of this widespread collaboration. Ms. Maloy said, “The cross-grade and cross-school dialogue is fostering development of curriculum that is even more effective and better articulated between grades.”
When asked if she felt the common assessments would negatively impact the creativity or individuality of her teaching, middle school social studies teacher Davida Harewood assured the BOE that they would not. Ms. Harewood went on to say, “This process is about much more than testing and data. The other teachers and I take very seriously our responsibility to develop this CCSS-aligned curriculum and the assessments to reflect Montclair’s culture and values and supports our students’ learning in a way that would not have been accomplished with off-the-shelf materials available from text book publishers or other vendors.”
Elementary school teacher Sandra Cook-McKnight also presented to the board about the curriculum and assessment development work, speaking favorably of the process and results.
Gail Clarke commented, “I’m not at all surprised by the level of dedication to the teaching craft, the intellect, or depth of subject matter knowledge that the teachers are bringing to this work – I knew we’d see that and I appreciate it greatly.