Curriculum adoption process takes a village, plus months of planning and testing

Yacolt Primary students working on math problems

The second graders in Kate Rhoades’ class at Yacolt Primary are working as a group to solve a series of math problems projected onto the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Soon, they all turn their attention to their new math textbooks and get to work solving problems individually. Unlike with textbooks of years past, students are encouraged to write in these books, filling in their answers and showing their work each step of the way.

While practicing and applying newly learned math skills is a common classroom occurrence, these particular students are working on an even larger project without even knowing it. Ms. Rhoades and her students are helping the Battle Ground Public Schools district assess new math teaching materials for all of its K-8 students. The new K-8 math curriculum will replace old textbooks that are often different from school to school and even grade level to grade level. The new curriculum will align with current learning standards and help teachers implement proven instructional practices that lead to increased student understanding and more in-depth learning.

While it may sound like a simple enough process to identify, adopt, and implement new learning materials across all of the Battle Ground district for any subject matter, it’s actually a massive undertaking that involves dozens of educators and teaching experts, several committees that meet regularly over the course of a year, a community review period, and eventually, final approval from the district’s Board of Directors.

To have the most beneficial impact on student learning, curricula should be reviewed and updated every 6-to-7-years to keep current with not only the subject matter, but also learning standards, teaching practices, and changing technology. Battle Ground Public Schools has worked over the past three years to determine which of its materials are in the most need of updating. This year, Battle Ground Schools has purchased updated textbooks for 8th grade Washington State history, adopted new curricula for high school English language arts and high school health, and is in the process of reviewing curricula for both K-8 math and high school sexual health.

Each step of the way, the committees and decision makers work to identify materials that meet the state learning standards and will best prepare students for college and careers.

The math curriculum adoption process began last June with the formation of the K-8 Math Adoption Review Committee. Led by David Cresap, Battle Ground’s co-director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, and Susan Watson, a Mathematics Instructional Support Specialist, the committee comprises 30 teachers representing each K-8 school, grade level, and specialized teaching area (such as Special Education, English Language Learners, the Aspire program, and math intervention) in the district.

“Having a teacher-led committee to provide content expertise is paramount to the process,” Cresap said. “A fundamental piece of the evaluation process is making sure the curriculum supports the current standards. From a practical standpoint, we look at things such as how long it’s been since our materials were updated, whether or not there has been a shift in the way math is taught—like with the adoption of Common Core standards—and even obvious things like whether our current texts are simply in poor condition.”

The committee focused its early efforts on refining its definition of what makes for the most effective math instruction materials. After putting out a request for bids from education materials vendors, the group created a comprehensive, evidence-informed rubric to assess potential new materials while also taking advantage of screening resources such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and EdReports, an independent nonprofit designed to improve education by providing reviews and comparisons of K-12 instructional materials.

Based on its research, the committee identified its top three choices for new materials, and the vendors that supply those materials were invited to give a presentation to the committee. After seeing these presentations just before winter break, the committee narrowed its options down to two finalists. The next step: Perform field tests with each of the textbooks. When feasible in the adoption process, Battle Ground conducts a field test of the curriculum in classrooms to see students interact with the materials..

“It’s important for classroom teachers to use these math textbooks in a live classroom setting to provide opportunities to both verify a program’s strengths and allow for potential concerns to surface,” Cresap said. “In order to properly evaluate materials, teachers need to see how students interact with the curriculum.”

About 50 K-8 teachers participated in the field tests, which began with a training session to ensure teachers were prepared to teach with the new materials. Once teachers were trained, the new materials were introduced in the classroom and used for three weeks of math instruction. The training and three-week trial period was then repeated for the second set of math materials under consideration.

“Testing the new curriculum provides an opportunity to get an accurate look at the available options,” said Kate Rhoades, second grade teacher at Yacolt Primary. “The process allows teachers to see kids interacting and making connections with the new materials, which informs us of how the students can achieve the most growth and improved learning outcomes.”

Once the field tests had concluded, the teachers evaluated the materials based on the established rubrics. The K-8 Math Adoption Review Committee convened for an entire day to discuss the merits of each of the tested curricula with the goal of reaching a consensus on which of the materials would best fit the district’s core teaching beliefs and instructional practices.

“Common Core standards ask students to learn about math with problem solving,” Rhoades said. “Students need math materials that give ample opportunity to build math understanding with representations, models, and discourse with their peers, rather than just demonstrations from a teacher of how to ‘do’ the math.”

After the Adoption Review Committee made its selection, the public has the opportunity to review the materials by appointment at the district office. The public review period for the new math materials is open from April 9-26. Also during the public review period, another committee—the Instructional Materials Committee, or IMC—reviews the selection process to ensure that district procedures have been followed. The IMC does not evaluate the actual materials that have been selected, just the process of how the materials were selected.

Once the public has had the opportunity to weigh in and the IMC has endorsed the selection process, the Adoption Review Committee presents its recommendation to the district’s Board of Directors for final review. The board follows a two-step process (a first and second reading) before making a final decision. Once approved, the district implements the new materials.

“New curriculum should bring deeper understanding about the learning standards and best instructional practices to all of our teachers,” Cresap said. “This will then translate into better learning for the students. I am grateful for the dedicated and thoughtful work from our committee members over the past nine months. These professionals sacrificed and made contributions to help make an important decision that will affect the lives of kids for years to come.”

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