State approves parts of new curriculum

By Clay Wilson

Clayton and Henry County teachers will have at least part of a new curriculum when school starts back this fall.

The rest of the new Georgia Performance Standards won't be approved until later in the year.

The Georgia Department of Education announced late last week that the state school board had given final approval to portions of the new curriculum. The approved sections included kindergarten-through-12th-grade science, K-eighth grade mathematics and fourth-through-12th-grade English/language arts.

Teachers, parents, administrators and curriculum specialists from around the state had the chance to comment on the Performance Standards, the state's first new curriculum in about 15 years. It will replace the "Quality Core Curriculum," (QCC) which state educators have criticized for being too massive, vague and lacking in consistency.

According to GDOE spokesman Kirk Englehardt, the Performance Standards will have several benefits, including guiding teachers in what they need to teach and even potentially helping to improve students' test scores.

"Statewide assessments will be aligned with the Georgia

Performance Standards, taking the guesswork out of teaching," he said. Still, he said, "Teachers will now teach to a curriculum, not to a test or a textbook."

The adoption of the standards didn't come without controversy. In June, published reports said state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox announced that a revised version of the social studies portion wouldn't be presented until August.

The reports said numerous teachers and college professors expressed concern with the way U.S. history topics were distributed throughout the grade levels in the originally proposed curriculum.

The original science curriculum became mired in controversy when Cox suggested removing the word "evolution." She withdrew the recommendation after an outcry that brought nationwide attention.

According to the DOE, the state board of education is expected to approve the social studies curriculum in October. The board may approve the K-through-third-grade English/language arts curriculum in August, and ninth-through-12th grade mathematics should be up for approval later this fall.

Even when the entire curriculum is approved, all of it will not be implemented until the 2008-09 school year. Between now and then, each course will be taught over a two-year period, with the first year consisting of familiarization for teachers and students and the second year including implementation.

Cox said that with the newly approved curriculum, "We will be able to satisfy (teachers') desire for clear expectations and continue moving forward with improving student achievement statewide."

Henry County Schools Coordinator of Mathematics Marian Tillotson agreed that the Performance Standards more clearly define the state's expectations. Along with system Coordinator of Social Studies Lois Wolfe, Tillotson worked on the committees that formulated the new curriculum.

Tillotson, who worked on the grades 3-5 mathematics subcommittee, used the topic of measurement as an example. She said that under the QCC, teachers are simply instructed to teach "measurement" – which includes numerous concepts.

"Everybody is trying to teach everything every year, and the bottom line is, students aren't mastering the material," she said.

By contrast, she said that under the Performance Standards, teachers are directed to teach specific measurement concepts in particular years.

While she said that overall she feels the new curriculum will contribute to stronger students, Tillotson noted, "I think the biggest obstacle is, how do we get this into the schools?"

She said that last month system officials brought together teacher representatives from the various grades in the various schools to begin familiarizing them with the new curriculum. She said the system wants teachers to start preparing their students for the changes.

"We're trying to work on that now, so that our students are more ready," she said.

According to spokeswoman Camille Barbee Olmstead, Clayton County Schools officials "are carefully reviewing the new standards put forth by the state." Like Henry's, the Clayton system had several teachers who served on the Performance Standard committees.

Olmstead said the system has been holding meetings to ensure that what its teachers are teaching will line up with the state's curriculum.

"We really want our students to be ready," she said.