Curriculum audit's findings were many

June 27, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


Grading our schools

A poor organizational system.

A curriculum with insufficient performance assessment mechanisms.

School board members who are too involved in the day-to-day management of the school system.

It's all in a 177-page report on how well the Washington County Board of Education delivers education to the school system's 19,239 students.

--cont from front page--

The so-called curriculum audit was performed last year by the Bloomington, Ind.-based Phi Delta Kappa International at a cost of $43,600. The organization reviewed school documents, interviewed 160 school officials, teachers and others in the community, and visited 24 of the county's 45 schools.


The report's findings, which became the force behind the current movement for widespread changes in the school system, include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Lack of organizational control. The audit cited several staffing problems, including a "dysfunctional" organizational system in management that does not reflect changes in positions and titles. Some job descriptions, such as those for high school principal, supervisor of computer-related instruction, and director of transportation, were missing.

Other job descriptions needed to be updated.

The audit found that individual board members were too involved in administration, particularly personnel and facilities management.

"The board tells us they want the best and the brightest, but they don't support us when we try to do our jobs," said an unnamed administrator quoted in the report.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Lack of clear objectives for students. While the audit said the written curriculum is adequate, its implementation has been hampered by variations in the quality of curriculum guides and the lack of a systemwide plan for curriculum development.

Teaching styles varied from school to school and classroom to classroom, the report found. "The uneven use of effective teaching practices diminishes the power of curriculum delivery and the potential for student achievement," the report said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Insufficient coordination for students. There was no sense of common focus on curriculum throughout the county, the audit found. Some teachers said they did not understand how the information they taught related to learning in prior or future grades.

"The lack of articulation and coordination ... creates a learning environment that impedes the progress of students as they advance from grade to grade and very often within a grade. This breakdown in curriculum continuity is a serious obstacle to improving student performance at all grade levels," the audit said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Inequities among schools, racial groups and genders. Library resources and computers are spread unevenly among schools. Some schools have more than 20 library books for each student, while others have half that number.

Black students are underrepresented in advanced-placement classes and elementary gifted programs. Male students are disproportionately represented in student suspension data. Disproportionate numbers of blacks and males are dropping out of school.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Test scores are mixed compared to national averages. While the system has shown improvement in the Maryland School Performance Program standardized test given in grades 3, 5 and 8, performance in other tests, such as the SAT, did not show similar score increases.

On the positive side, average attendance in the county is above the state average, and the dropout rate is below the state average. Other trends in student performance, such as an increasing number of the students passing algebra courses, indicate improvement.

Overall, however, the system makes little use of data to improve classroom teaching strategies.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Limited technology efforts. While the report said school buildings were well-maintained and provide "an inviting atmosphere for students and employees," it found a lack of coordinated use of computers and other technologies in classrooms.

"The auditors found little evidence of systematic planning to guide the development of technology as an instructional tool," the audit said.

The auditors made several recommendations, calling for the development of processes to foster better relations between the school board and the superintendent, revision of curriculum guides, development of a staff development plan and revision of the technology plan.

Many people - in the school system and out - said they found the audit tough but fair.

"I think it was extremely fair. I think any time you're doing an audit you're not looking for praise," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the County Council of PTAs and the mother of two students at Fountaindale Elementary School.

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