School board gives preliminary nod to new elementary school curriculum guidelines
Would integrate concepts across various subjects; concerns raised about watered-down classes
The Montgomery County Board of Education has given preliminary approval to new guidelines for an elementary school curriculum that is designed to integrate critical and creative thinking skills across subjects and gives teachers electronic access to more teaching resources.
Members of the school board voted 6-0 to approve the "K-5 Curriculum Framework" at their Monday meeting. The new guidelines would help students prepare for new nationwide curriculum standards in math and language arts, as well as future revisions to standardized tests, such as the Maryland School Assessment. The basic substance of material taught in the classroom would not change, officials said.
Under the new curriculum framework, teachers would be able to assess, on a week-to-week basis for each grade level, how well students have mastered certain skills. Social studies and reading, for example, could be integrated into a lesson designed to gauge a student's ability to analyze information and collaborate with other students on projects.
The school board will consider final approval of the framework in November or December, said board President Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda. The new guidelines soon will be posted on the school system's website for public review, said Erick Lang, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Officials piloted the curriculum model in 90 county public schools during the 2009-2010 school year.
After receiving comments on the model, officials began using it in kindergarten and first grade in 112 county schools on a voluntary basis this school year. The model, which is being developed in conjunction with Pearson Education, a New Jersey-based educational publishing company, will expand to other grades next year.
Eventually, the new curriculum would feed into a new slate of standardized testing Maryland has agreed to as part of a 26-state coalition. Those tests are in development and could change the Maryland School Assessment.
While the new guidelines will abide by new nationwide standards, it will not settle for those standards, Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast said.
At the Monday meeting, Weast and others stressed that a major feature of the new framework would be its online resources. Teachers would be able to gain access to lesson plans, videos, visuals, and other materials.
The online resource would improve classroom instruction by allowing teachers to collaborate and provide each other feedback, Weast said.
"What you have now is isolation and variability," Weast said.
Board member Laura V. Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville said she was concerned about the ability of teachers to adapt to students who are advancing more slowly than expected under the new guidelines. She also said that teachers might find it difficult to create more than one lesson plan for students of different levels while still being responsible for an entire class.
At one point, Berthiaume angered Weast when she said the new guidelines appeared to be "idiot-proofing" lesson-planning for teachers.
"I resent that," Weast said. "My teachers are not idiots."
Frederick Stichnoth, president of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, which represents parents of gifted students, said in an interview Friday that the integrated curriculum could lead to the watering-down of subjects such as science for students who could otherwise study and learn at a higher level.
"All expectations, all programming, will be kind of one-sized, but they won't deal with gifted and talented kids," Stichnoth said.
To watch a sample lesson in the Elementary Integrated Curriculum and for more information, go to www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/