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Curriculum and Content Standards

Higher-Order Academic Expectations

Since the 1980s, America’s public schools have been steadily criticized for being ineffective and inefficient. Despite millions of additional dollars expended on various school improvement schemes and strategies, test scores continue to decline, and American students perform well-below their counterparts around the world. In the year 2010, the nation’s governors and state school superintendents adopted a set of higher-order academic standards in Math and English/Language, designed to challenge every school in the country to raise its academic expectations for students and staff. Prior to this, each state had its own content standards—many far less rigorous than others, and none enforced with any consistency. It was intended that this national set of standards (called the Common Core) would gradually reverse the downward spiral of student achievement and restore America’s confidence in her schools.

Critics of the Common Core (in Math and English/Language Arts) worry that it represents too much government control and excessive testing. Some states have adopted the Core, others have devised their own standards, and some have opted for a combination. Whichever path they have chosen, the states have adopted higher-level academic standards. Ohio, for example, has adopted Ohio’s New Learning Standards for the four core content areas. With the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the new law enacted by Congress in December, 2015—every state and school district are required to adopt and enforce higher-order academic standards.

No matter which content standards a district adopts, EdFOCUS provides the following services for Curriculum and Content Standards.

Unpacking the Curriculum Standards

EdFOCUS consultants show teachers how to examine each content standard to identify (a) what students will “do” to demonstrate mastery—or, how they will process the information provided and construct meaning for themselves; and (b) what teachers will “do” to enable that mastery—or, what strategies and methods will facilitate student learning. Two examples follow:

Grade 3 Math

Standard 3.OA.8: “Solve two-step word problems using the four operations. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies, including rounding.”

Student Demonstration of Mastery: Create story problems to match each of three different equations; then solve problems written by other students, including a written explanation of the steps taken to arrive at the solutions.

Teacher Facilitation and Student Response to Promote Mastery:

  1. Teacher leads students to examine sample 2-step word problems to discover the multiplication process as repeated addition;
  2. Teacher models how to solve 2-step problems; have students tell how these are different than the ones they have done before. Show students how to determine what the problem is asking them to do, and how to write an equation/expression for the problem scenario.
  3. Teacher presents simple “work samples” with all 4 operations and discusses the order of operations in 2-step problems. Teacher then models 3 or 4 problems, including a check for student understanding. Students label sample problems with the needed operations and then solve 4 or 5 problems independently. Students write equations and use them to solve problems.
  4. Teacher assigns students to devise practice problems for other students, swap papers, and solve each others’ problems, writing the steps they used to solve the problems.

Mastery: Finally, each student is given several different equations. For each equation, the student creates a word problem. He or she then solves at least five problems written by classmates, writing the steps used to solve each.

Grade 6 ELA

Standard RI 6.4: “Determine meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in an on-level text.”

Student Demonstration of Mastery: Analyze an unfamiliar informational passage; use context clues to make valid predictions of unfamiliar words and phrases.

Teacher Facilitation to Promote Mastery:

  1. model how to use context to predict the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases;
  2. help students practice using simple passages, making predictions, citing why, and then using reference tools to verify or adjust;
  3. direct students to trade papers, examine each others’ work, including the logic of their predictions;
  4. provide students practice with on-level passages.

Mastery: Finally, each student is given an unfamiliar passage of 750-900 words. He or she makes valid predictions as to the meaning of challenging words or phrases. To check accuracy, each student answers comprehension questions requiring accurate use of context.

NOTE: If standards L 6.4 and L 6.5 are included, students also learn to use roots and affixes; figurative language; connotation, and word nuances to make their predictions. They also learn to use reference materials to verify or adjust their predictions.

Curriculum Mapping

EdFOCUS helps grade-level teams cluster their standards from several strands or domains into topical or thematic Units. These Units are then placed in the most appropriate sequence for teaching and learning and assigned approximate timeframes. The format for each district’s Curriculum Map is customized to meet the needs of its teachers. Samples of Maps devised for districts are available on request. Click here for more details.

21st Century Skills

Although several “lists” of 21st Century Skills are circulating, the “Partnership” list is one of the most comprehensive. The EdFOCUS team helps teachers incorporate these skills into the curriculum as developmentally appropriate “work habits” and “products” at each grade level and within each content area. Click here for more details.