Manatee curriculum to focus on state standards

MANATEE -- Common Core State Standards will be a prime part of school curriculum in Manatee County as the district moves forward, officials said in a presentation to the school board Wednesday night.

"We are going to grab onto something very basic," Bob Gagnon, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said. "Teaching the right things at a high complexity level."

The new vision, which is part of a movement toward standard-based evaluations and grading, as well as collaboration between school leaders, will move learning beyond a knowledge-based curriculum to an application-based one, Gagnon said.

The department has al

ready implemented CORE standards into kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. Road maps are in place to implement these standards in grades 2-12 by the 2013-14 school year.

Gagnon said giving teachers tools to help their students meet these standards is becoming more and more crucial as tests, such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams that students will start taking in 2014, focus more on problem-solving and data interpretation, not just memorizing information.

Beth Severson, a professional learning specialist with the district, said that in the past few months elementary level teachers worked with the district to find ways to translate these standards into the classroom in the areas of math and English.

Teacher leaders have also been chosen in these grades to help communicate between the district and teachers.

Professional learning communities are being organized after school through electronic scheduling websites such as Noodle so that other teachers can participate in collaborative training.

Part of improving classroom standards is showing teachers learning models that already have proven to work.

For example, Michelle Compton, a district curriculum specialist, recorded a video in which she engages an elementary school class in an interactive read-aloud. She's shown asking students questions about key details in the story that relate to the CORE standard that requires students to analyze what they are reading.

That video can be dispersed to teachers, who can mimic the teaching strategies.

An evaluation system previously created by the new interim technology and information services director, Ernie Paredes, should also help teachers make this transition by allowing administrators to electronically inform educators of the results of classroom reviews. Teachers can receive feedback on the complexity of their lesson plans, as well as the level of student engagement in their classroom, the same day that they are reviewed. Teachers can respond or reflect on the feedback using the system, and request conferences with administrators if they desire.

Because teachers are currently evaluated partly on their instructional practices and partly on their students' performances on standardized tests, this system aims to help them meet CORE standards.

"Everything is based on making our teachers successful on that 50/50 piece," Gagnon said.

The district also hopes that finding new ways to assess students will help them perform better on standardized tests.

Benchmarks will be key to this, officials said Wednesday, and through technology, teachers will be able to compare their students to other schools and classrooms, or other students in the classroom, and see what they need to delve deeper into.

"If we have huge general weaknesses across the district, that would be opportunities for professional learning for the teachers," said Robin Thompson, executive director of teaching and learning. She also added that if a teacher could see that a teacher at a different school was sufficient at bringing his or her students to a certain standard, then the teacher could contact the other for feedback on how to improve.

Gagnon said that the district's shift in curriculum and assessment will better prepare students for college and careers.

"We were behind, there is no doubt," Gagnon said. "And we are trying to catch up."

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.