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Curriculum and Assessment

Strategy No. 2 in A Blueprint For Great Schools report from the Transition Advisory Team dated August 9, 2011.

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The highest performing school systems in the world prepare their students to apply rigorous academic content knowledge to real life situations. The end goal is to foster each student's ability to create innovative solutions to complex problems and to bring higher levels of economic prosperity and social cohesion. As a result, these students are better able to lead more productive and prosperous adult lives. Every California student deserves these same opportunities.

In 2010, California adopted the Common Core Standards (CCS) in English language arts and Mathematics, which provide an opportunity for the state to align curriculum across pre-kindergarten through grade 12 to ensure that students are prepared to compete in a global economy. In our increasingly complex society, students need to use knowledge in flexible ways, develop complex reasoning and problem solving skills, and abilities to collaborate and communicate in multiple forms.

Implementing CCS will require our education system to do things substantially differently from preschool through higher education. The new standards require a more integrated approach to delivering content instruction. The CCS in English language arts are written to include the development of critical reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in history, science, mathematics, and the arts, as well as in English class. The standards in mathematics are written to include the use of mathematical skills and concepts in fields like science, technology, and engineering. These standards emphasize the ways in which students should use literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum and in life, engaging in real life applications, analyzing issues, and using knowledge to solve complex problems.

As California moves forward to implement these standards, we will also need to examine how our standards and curriculum frameworks in other subject areas can be made compatible with the Common Core, and how our assessments can ensure attention to critical thinking and performance skills that will enable students to be college and career-ready when they graduate from high school.

By 2014-15, states across the nation will be able to participate in multi-state assessment systems to evaluate college- and career-readiness in light of the CCS. Along with 30 other states, California has joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), one of the two multi-state initiatives organized to develop new assessments of English language arts and mathematics. With its computer-adapted testing capacity and provision of formative and interim assessment supports, as well as performance-based assessments that evaluate writing, research, and problem solving, the new assessment system will provide a platform for much more diagnostic support for learning and teaching.

With the adoption of new standards and assessments, there is urgency in ensuring that schools have more rapid and ready access to appropriate instructional materials — including digital materials — to support learning. In an era of budget constraints, increasing productivity is essential. One key path to increased productivity is through a commitment to technology — the same technology that has increased the performance of California businesses and nonprofits over the last 20 years. This does not mean computers replacing teachers to deliver curriculum, just as it does not mean computers replacing business employees. It means making digital technology as effective and productive a tool in the school environment as it is in the world beyond schools.

There is also urgency in considering how to ensure appropriate and effective learning experiences for California's growing population of English learners. As Figure 1 shows, ELs fall further behind the longer they are in California schools, as do low-income students. The curriculum and teaching supports currently in place are not preparing these students for the higher-order skills expected in high school and beyond. A new approach to literacy development and learning in the content areas is needed.

Figure 1: Percent of Students Proficient in
English Language Arts (ELA) 2010 STAR Tests
Type Grades 2-5 Grades 6-8 Grades 9-11
All Students 54% 55% 48%
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 42% 41% 34%
English Learners 30% 13% 7%
Students With Disabilities 30% 23% 11%

Curriculum and Assessment Key Recommendations

The Transition Team's recommendations envision a future in which every California student has access to a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate curriculum that prepares them to be college and career-ready and to participate as productive members of their communities and compete globally. This technology-supported curriculum enables students to develop deep understanding within and across disciplines, complex thinking and performance skills, a global perspective, and the capacity for inquiry and independent learning. The curriculum also reflects students' linguistic and cultural strengths and builds on the diverse assets of California's students and families, enabling them to become highly literate in English and one or more other languages. In order to achieve these goals, CDE should:

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Questions: Craig Cheslog | blueprint@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0800 
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