Saturday, June 23, 2018
Education

Three Pasco schools test curriculum tied to Common Core

LAND O'LAKES — Jennifer Grob barely could contain her enthusiasm.

She was 90 minutes into a daylong training session on Oakstead Elementary's newly adopted curriculum, called Pearson Forward K-5, which teachers will debut in their classrooms on Monday.

"It's so cool," the Oakstead art teacher said. "It's so easy to follow and understand. It makes everything make more sense."

Developed by the Montgomery County, Md., school district with corporate giant Pearson Education, the model is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, which Florida schools must implement by 2014.

Lessons and supporting material, which are organized online, focus on critical thinking, creativity and knowledge across subject areas. Reading and writing might be incorporated into art, for instance, or math combined with music. Teachers would collaborate as teams, with a goal of moving children ahead with their ability to learn, not just grades.

A "big idea" and "essential question" would tie the learning together — not new concepts for the district, just done differently.

"It's good to really show them how everything ties into each subject area," fourth-grade teacher Angela Campbell said, noting how in the past areas were taught separately. "This allows teachers to start teaching again."

Pasco district officials Amelia Larson and Monica Ilse traveled to Maryland in May to learn more about Forward, which is known as Curriculum 2.0 in Montgomery County. The change has not won unanimous praise in Maryland — many parents complained that the math curriculum is not accelerated enough for high achievers.

Montgomery curriculum director Marty Creel said the system, devised amid parent complaints that subjects that weren't tested weren't being taught well, was starting to get better reviews as people become more comfortable with it. Anecdotally, Creel said, students are beginning to talk differently about education as they incorporate the skills.

The district has not yet used Common Core-associated tests.

After visiting with top Montgomery administrators, Larson and Ilse asked Pasco elementary principals who would be willing to pilot the program, which is now being tested in a handful of districts across the country.

Five volunteered, and ultimately three — Oakstead, Odessa and Denham Oaks — are participating in the two-year initiative, which is not costing the district.

"It's going to meet kids' needs better," Oakstead principal Tammy Kimpland said. "It made sense for our school to do this."

Oakstead's staff voted in the spring to adopt the curriculum.

About 50 parents got their first introduction to Forward K-5 during a Thursday evening presentation by Pearson trainers.

Project manager Judy Commander assured the group that Oakstead would not abandon things that have worked well. Rather, she said, the goal is to move students ahead, with teachers individualizing instruction while strengthening thinking skills and knowledge.

"Programs do not teach children," she said. "Teachers teach."

Parents will have a clear understanding, as will students, of what it means to take risks in education, or to be persistent, Commander explained, so that their meetings with teachers will be clear and understandable.

The parents had many questions, such as how they would access the curriculum materials to help their kids at home (working on it), and whether the skills their children gain in elementary school would be continued in middle and high school (the curriculum is elementary only).

Overall, the parents sounded pleased with the new direction.

"Critical thinking and reasoning is major for kids," said Ricardeau Lucceus, whose daughter begins kindergarten this year. "It only makes them more cultured."

"I do like the thought of learning skills and being able to apply them," said Jamie Alderman, who has children entering first and fourth grades. "We have some amazing teachers who will do a great job with it."

If there was a concern, it was one of stability. Parents have seen academic models come and go over the years. Some asked if there's a backup plan.

That was an issue for teachers, too.

"The hardest thing has been the constant change of curriculum and resources," Campbell said. "Basically, every year since I've been teaching — this is my 10th year — they throw us new things."

Campbell found Forward beneficial, though, and looked forward to this change. She said before it emerged, teachers were having to tie their lessons to Common Core on their own.

Third-grade teacher Angela Miller liked the new curriculum, too. She found it offered more difficult vocabulary and spelling words, and allowed teachers to push students academically.

"If it works, I want to keep it," she said. "When we do the same curriculum every year, we get better."

If successful, Pasco could expand Forward to other schools.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]

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