Instructional Improvements Keyed to 'Back-Mapping' of Curriculum from Grade 8 to Pre-Kindergarten

May 4, 2001
The Maryland Content Standards for Grade 3 state that a student should know how to read, write and represent whole numbers and simple fractions using symbols, words and models. But what about second graders? What should they know before they reach the third grade?

Such questions for each subject at each grade level are now being asked in an effort to "back-map" the entire pre-high school curriculum of the Montgomery County Public Schools, from Grade 8 all the way to pre-kindergarten.

The massive undertaking is part of a comprehensive effort to help each elementary and middle school principal and teacher identify the exact skills and knowledge that need to be taught so that their students will meet and exceed not just state standards, but also emerging national and international standards.

But the information is not just for principals and teachers. A companion effort is under way to bring each school's instructional program out of the classroom and place it on the Internet, where students, parents and the general public can see it for themselves.

The Internet initiative also envisions a web-based service, called an Instructional Management System, that will provide access to a broad array of data and other information about curriculum, standards and assessments, eventually including individual student performance data. That project will be field-tested in a cluster of schools this fall.

At the same time, two other initiatives are under way. One is to develop a clear scope and sequence for each course and unit, with companion instructional guides and resources, for each teacher. The other is to provide teachers and principals with formative and summative assessments, such as quarterly measures, that are linked directly to the revised curriculum. Staff development programs also are being geared to this effort, along with integrated communication strategies to keep people informed and involved.

Identifying What is Being Taught and Why

The goal is to open the process of improving teaching and learning to more teachers, principals, parents and the entire community by stating clearly what is being taught and why.

The Board of Education set this initiative in motion in February when it approved a revised policy on curriculum to guide the development, implementation and monitoring of instruction throughout the school system. The revised policy is intended, in part, to establish continuity from grade to grade and consistency from school to school, with students acquiring and applying knowledge and skills toward a recognized standard of performance.

The new policy calls for the development of a clear and coherent curriculum, written in the form of a set of indicators that are aligned to identifiable standards. An instructional planning team of curriculum and instructional specialists, along with teachers, principals, administrators and parents, was formed to oversee the process of revising the school system's curriculum and the entire instructional program. The process is expected to take three years.

One of the first steps was to bring in the Council for Basic Education (CBE), an independent nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that provides technical assistance to school districts and states in setting and assessing curriculum. CBE was hired to work with content supervisors to back-map the Maryland Content Standards. These standards are organized into grade-level groupings, beginning with pre-Kindergarten through Grade 3, then Grades 4 and 5, followed by Grades 6-8, and then high school.

Beginning with Maryland Content Standards

The curriculum revision began with the Maryland Content Standards because these form the basis for the majority of the standards and assessments being used by the state. Eventually, the revisions will identify what students should know and do in each subject area covered by the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS), the upcoming Maryland High School Assessments, and the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). An effort also will be made to compare and align the revised curriculum with other state, national and international standards and assessments.

At the heart of this initiative are two relatively simple objectives -- making sure that students receive a consistent curriculum in every class and every school, and aligning that curriculum to identifiable standards at the highest possible level.

Once the initial back-mapping is completed this spring, stakeholder groups will review the work so that a full curriculum framework can be proposed to the Board of Education this summer. The framework will not be the finished curriculum. Instead, the framework will state the essential skills and knowledge expected of every student from pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8.

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