SUPERINTENDENT UPDATE

Superintendent Mark Ross

The many reasons for and benefits of adopting new curriculum

Looking back on my time as a primary school student, I remember well the days at the beginning of each school year when we would check out our textbooks for the year. The first thing I would do is open to the inside cover to scan the names of all the students who’d had that particular book before me, checking to see if my older siblings or their friends happened to have used the same copy.

More often than not, the books had been used for years and years, and it showed in the worn corners and the copious amount of handwritten notes scribbled in margins of the pages. Upon adding my name and school year to the bottom of the list, I was immediately connected to the students who came before me, bonded by years’ worth of learning from shared materials.

This all comes to mind as Battle Ground Public Schools’ department of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment has been even busier than usual these past three years taking stock of the district’s current inventory of textbooks across all grade levels to determine which of our materials are in the most need of updating.

Three years ago, Battle Ground Schools adopted new curriculum for high school social studies. The following year, it was time to update our high school math materials. This year, the district has purchased updated textbooks for eighth grade Washington State history, adopted new curricula for high school English language arts and high school health, and is currently in the final stages of reviewing curricula for both K-8 math and high school sexual health.

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, the reality is that it is a huge undertaking involving dozens of educators and teaching experts, 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.

There are many factors we look at when determining whether or not it’s time to update materials. Not only do we assess the physical condition of the textbooks, but we also focus on the questions of how well the materials align with current learning standards, teaching practices, and how well the materials have kept up with rapidly-changing subject matter and associated technologies.

Adopting new curriculum in our schools not only replaces textbooks that are simply old and outdated, but it also helps ensure consistency between schools and across grade levels. Take for example the adoption of new math materials for all of our K-8 classrooms. Once implemented, all of our students will be learning from the same set of materials by grade level, regardless of which school they attend. Through having access to the same materials, our teachers can collaborate more effectively. This enables teachers to implement proven instructional practices, leading to increased student understanding and more in-depth learning.
Most aspects of teaching and learning have changed quite a bit since my primary school days. On the surface, the use of textbooks in the classroom may seem relatively unchanged over the years. But look a little closer, and the differences between then and now become apparent rather quickly.

For starters, some of today’s textbooks are “consumable,” meaning that they are intended to be used by a single student for a single school year. Students are encouraged to make notes, show their work, and fill in answers to quiz questions in such textbooks. Another key difference is the integration of technology and online learning components. Some textbooks now come with access to an electronic version of the book, complete with online tests and quizzes that track students’ progress in a specific learning area, challenging the student to focus on the areas in which they need the most practice or improvement.

By identifying and adopting new curricula that align with state learning standards and provide accurate information, our students are afforded improved access to materials that will best prepare them for the careers and learning they’ll encounter beyond high school. The work that we’ve done to update the district’s curricula will continue; however it may be disrupted next year by budget considerations. As the district works to maintain fiscal responsibility, we may have to postpone the adoption of some curricula.

In the end, all of the work that goes into this process ensures our students have access to the necessary materials to meet today’s learning standards and requirements. Through increased access to updated learning materials, our students will be better prepared for the next chapter in their lives.

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