Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Schools expect clarity on what to teach

Ohio's new standards align lessons to tests

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For the first time, Ohio teachers this fall know exactly what they should teach students in every grade in math and English. By December, they will have the same direction for social studies and science.

Credit goes to hundreds of pages of academic guidelines, called “standards,” issued by the state to teachers in every school district. Districts such as Cincinnati, Mason, Princeton, Lebanon, Mount Healthy and St. Bernard-Elmwood Place are tweaking or overhauling the way they teach to match the 250- to 300-page math and English guidelines that were drafted by educators, parents, administrators and business leaders and approved by the state board of education in December.

[photo] Joshua Hill, 14, of the West End, works on an algebra problem Monday in math class at Lafayette Bloom Back on Track Accelerated Middle School.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
In some classrooms, students are receiving more testing this year to determine if they meet the standards. Where they don't, they're receiving more tutoring. Some teachers are looking ahead for the first time, incorporating lessons students should know in the next grade.Educators say the standards offer guidance as they face new federal testing requirements that are designed to raise student achievement.

“This is a vast improvement,” said Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers union. “If students and teachers are going to be held accountable for performance, we need to clearly know up front what we're going to be accountable for so we can develop our lessons to teach and reteach."

In Kentucky, statewide standards have existed since 1992.The standards were redone in 2001 to correlate with the state's new testing system, which was developed and implemented beginning in 1998, said Lisa Gross, Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman.

Ohio, which allows each district to determine its curriculum, had a loosely defined course of study for what students should know dating to the 1980s but had no academic standards. in place. “With proficiency tests (in place since 1990), school districts started realizing that being general didn't give them enough direction,” said Patti Grey, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education. Standards are clearly defined expectations of what children should know and be able to do by the end of a school year.

For example, one English standard might require a student to know how to read a variety of literary texts, including short stories, novels, poetry and drama, by 12th grade. The student also should be able to interpret, compare, contrast and critique the texts.

Ohio is among states that define what children should know at the end of each grade. For example, a kindergartner should be able to retell a story, identify characters and setting, and distinguish between fantasy and reality. The standards movement has been catching on across the nation for the past decade but is receiving increased attention since President Bush signed a landmark federal education bill in January. The president's new legislation requires states by 2005-06 to:

• Test children in reading and math in grades 3 through 8.

• Match student achievement tests to academic content standards.

Standards in action

Ohio's teachers are working to implement the new guidelines in their classes this year. Princeton City Schools have already incorporated the standards for preschool to sixth grade and will continue to implement standards through grade 12 this year.

“A number of teachers have said, 'Just give me a clear idea of what it is we should be teaching and I'll do it,”' said Lon Stettler, Princeton's assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

“It gives them the focus they want.” Since December, Lebanon City Schools has spent hundreds of hours overhauling the district's course of study to match the standards, said Becky Hill, director of elementary curriculum. Cincinnati Public School officials adopted the English and math guidelines, even though the district had its own guidelines since the mid-1990s.

Larry Jackson, a math teacher at Lafayette Bloom Back on Track Accelerated Middle School, said he uses the standards as a guide to determine what his students should know before they move on to high school. He reviews the ninth-grade standards and weaves the foundation of those concepts into his seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

For example, though his class is solving linear algebraic equations, he also incorporates concepts such as solving quadratic equations by factoring and graphing.

At Mason City Schools, much of what the state requires is already in place but the district is revising its curriculum to address gaps, said Jennifer Fox, the district's language arts curriculum leader for grades 7-12. For example, the state standards place a heavy emphasis on nonfiction writing, Ms. Fox said. The district is examining its curriculum to ensure that emphasis.

In Mount Healthy Schools, teachers have increased the frequency of reading tests to determine whether students meet the new standards. Those who don't are tutored, said Lori Handler, the district's director of elementary education.

Tests as standards

Ohio has been testing children statewide since 1990. With no clearly defined expectations of what kids should learn, the states' achievement tests became the “standard.” Some educators say the lack of standards set students up to fail. In Cincinnati Public Schools, for example, only 37 percent of fourth-grade students who took the fourth-grade proficiency test passed in the 2001-02 school year.

“This has been a major contributing factor to low student performance on achievement tests,” said Cincinnati Public Schools board member Harriet Russell. If standards had been in place before, she said, teachers would have known what students were expected to know.


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