Curriculum audit finds deficiencies

June 28, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


Curriculum audit

One of the most significant accomplishments the Washington County Board of Education has touted during the past decades was the implementation of a new curriculum intended to be a blueprint for the things students should learn in county classrooms.

But there was one significant problem with what is known as the essential curriculum: There are few ways to measure if it's working.

"It's like building a building and not putting a foundation under it," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

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A lack of sufficient assessment tools was one of the many deficiencies cited in a study last year of how well the school system delivers the product of education to its student customers. The 177-page curriculum audit also found:


- While the written curriculum is considered to be "adequate," instructional planning is hurt by variations in curriculum guides, which give directions about student learning objectives, prerequisite skills, classroom strategies, instructional materials and assessment methods.

A review of all 54 curriculum guides found that 38 - including those for high school math, elementary school science and language arts for all grades - "must be strengthened in order to serve as effective curriculum management tools."

The only curriculum guide to get a perfect score from the auditors was the one for physical education, which the auditors suggested become the model for future curriculum development.

Bartlett said he was amazed to hear, after his arrival last November, of teachers boasting about their ability to teach without written lesson plans.

"That's cute, but that just doesn't work that way," he said.

He said he spent the spring traveling from school to school, carrying a chart that shows the relationship between the written, the taught and the tested curriculum.

"It's not junk. It's really the heart of the education system," Bartlett said.

- The school system lacks long-range plans to guide development of curriculum. Goals for student performance were found to lack specific procedures on monitoring those benchmarks.

"The auditors found that some planning efforts had been undertaken by the district, however, their quality varied and their usage was inconsistent across the district," the audit said.

"There are a lot of essential curriculum binders still on shelves that haven't been used. They are going to be used," school board member Edwin Hayes said.

Auditors also found no policies that defined or described responsibilities for the school system's coordination of curriculum, leading to "no sense of common focus throughout the county."

- Staff development is fragmented and unfocused.

Auditors evaluated the school system's staff development program against 18 criteria and deemed it "adequate" in two areas and "inadequate" in 12 areas. The overall program was found to be ineffective.

The lack of staff development has hurt the quality of programs the school system has tried to introduce, many familiar with the school system said.

"We're notorious for jumping into a program underfunded," said Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association.

- Assessing the curriculum is based on a "weak" system that relies on occasional outside studies.

"Built-in evaluations are needed to ensure that all aspects of the district are functioning at the most cost-effective levels possible" the audit said.

The school system does not have a written comprehensive student and program assessment.

"You have your outcomes, but if you don't test to see if you measure up to your outcomes, you really don't have an idea of where you're going," Hayes said.

He also agreed with the audit's finding that decisions about programs are seldom driven by data.

"We as a system, don't use a lot of the data we generate," Hayes said.

A committee addressing the assessment situation noted in a preliminary report that a lack of county assessments is "a major deficit." It suggested that school and course assessments be developed to measure curriculum content, determine if the content was covered, and to plan and adjust future instruction.

School board member Doris J. Nipps said existing programs should be assessed to see if they should be scrapped.

"I think that's a serious thing we need to do," she said

Nipps cited a lack of funds in past years to remedy deficiencies in staff development and assessment, but she said that is not an excuse.

"We were wrong. We should have put it in there," she said.

Theresa M. Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction, said, "Staff development is expensive, but the alternative is even more expensive."

School board member Andrew A. Humphreys said staff development is especially critical in ensuring that schools throughout the system are teaching consistent material.

"If teachers aren't keeping up with what's going on in their field . . . sooner or later there is going to be a difference between what they are teaching and what's being taught in another school," Humphreys said.

He said teachers shouldn't be concerned about increased use of assessments because they will give them a clearer focus of what is expected of them.

"What people are going to find is it's actually going to be a help to them," Humphreys said.

Nipps said clear assessments also will give the school system a better idea of which teachers are effective and which aren't.

"We have some really good teachers, and there are some of them who, I think, should look at other careers," she said.

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Curriculum audit finds deficiencies

Curriculum audit's findings were many

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