Q&A: How Duval County uses standards-aligned tools to drive achievement

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School districts around the country are stepping up to address an urgent need: to align curricula to new, high standards and adopt tools to aid teachers in teaching to them. One example is Florida’s Duval County Public Schools, which recently began using open educational resources from EngageNY to align its reading and math curriculum to higher standards. We asked Dr. Holli N. Fears, Executive Director of English Language Arts for grades 3-5 in Duval County, about the district’s work with the new resources and how teachers and students are tackling higher standards.

What is different for teachers in Duval County now that they’re using the EngageNY resources? 

Teachers are finding that they no longer spend hours upon hours searching for supplemental materials in an attempt to align their instruction and the tasks students are asked to complete to the Florida Standards (similar to the Common Core State Standards). Instead, teachers have a wealth of well-aligned resources at their fingertips. They spend their time reviewing the materials and preparing for instruction with a solid resource, where before the time was spent in crafting lessons from the ground up.

How have teachers responded to the curriculum? 

Most teachers embraced it with excitement, but as with any new resource, there also were struggles that come with learning a new layout and curricular components. On top of that, these particular materials align to standards that require much more thinking and ownership from students than our previous Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in the areas of literacy and mathematics. However, with those growing pains has come much content learning and instructional capacity-building. Teachers are more agile in navigating complex text and determining how it will be presented to students. They are more collaborative in their lesson preparation in that they are discussing standards and how they will move students to mastery.

How has the district supported teachers in implementing the new curriculum?

District staff provided summer training where teachers were able to review the content and become familiar with the instructional approach before implementing it in the classroom. For both reading and mathematics, model teachers were identified from across the district, and we created videos of those teachers in action for professional development purposes. The curriculum department has developed a plan to survey all teachers and hold focus groups regarding the curriculum resources. Once stakeholder input is gathered, teams will begin revising the curriculum pacing guides for the upcoming school year.

How have the materials helped teachers align their instruction to the college- and career-ready standards?

TNTP recently reviewed classroom instruction and student work samples in our district and found that the percentage of assignments aligned to the standards increased from 26 percent in 2014 to 49 percent in 2016 within the same schools. Most shocking was the alignment comparison in elementary grades where the aligned resources were recently adopted. One of the most impressive findings was that within elementary schools, 80 percent of the mathematics assignments reviewed aligned to the standards.

How is the new curriculum directly impacting students? 

In literacy, academic discussions around complex topics of human rights or the right to vote have become the norm. Students are using evidence from complex text to support their arguments in discussions and in writing. In mathematics, students are analyzing problem sets to determine the best strategy to complete the problem and discussing with their peers not only the process of using that strategy but also why they find that particular strategy helpful. Also, we’ve seen a higher percentage of students performing at or above grade level this year. For example, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations in mathematics increased by anywhere from two percentage points to six percentage points when compared to the mid-year data in 2015-16. In English Language Arts, there has been an average six-point increase in students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations. Among 3rd grade, this percentage increased by ten points, and in 4thgrade it’s 15 points higher than the mid-year data from 2015-16.

How are you engaging parents in understanding and supporting the new resources?

As the year has progressed, we have found that there are some additional opportunities to improve our district-wide implementation of the resources. For instance, to respond to parents’ feedback on the math curriculum, we created a Home Learning Hotline. Each week, parents can log in to a live webinar facilitated by district mathematics content specialists where they answer questions, work sample mathematics problems, and provide support for parents in helping their children. Also, we’ve posted videos of teachers teaching lessons on the district website so that parents can build their personal content knowledge in these mathematical strategies. In literacy, content directors provided informational letters prior to specific lessons being taught, developed lessons addressing the same standards with different topics/pieces of text, and discussed the developmental appropriateness of texts in community meetings.