Aug 032011

By Teri Walker–

The 2011-12 school year will mark the beginning of a new approach to education in the Snowflake Unified School District.

Teachers will roll out the Beyond Textbooks education curriculum when classes resume on Thursday, Aug. 11, introducing students to a web-based curriculum that ensures state standards are being taught consistently throughout the district.

“Beyond Textbooks is a major change in how we deliver our instruction,” said District Superintendent Hollis Merrell. “This program lends itself to more collaboration and cooperation among teachers, which should improve performance.”

Beyond Textbooks focuses on preparing a curriculum calendar that is aligned both vertically and horizontally. Vertical alignment means that educators know what’s being taught in the grade below and the grade above the one they’re teaching, so they can pick up where the previous grade left off, and prepare students for the requirements they’ll be facing in the next grade. Horizontal alignment refers to ensuring the same curriculum is being taught, at the same time, to all students, regardless of who is instructing each class.

Teachers began training and working together in the spring and summer to prepare curriculum calendars for the coming year. Early release dates have been scheduled throughout the year so teachers may continue to collaborate on lesson plans.

“Collaboration is the key to success with this program,” said Merrell, who reports that other school districts using the curriculum have shown dramatic improvements in standardized test scores.

Merrell explains that the education program teaches educators how to plan together, share resources and focus on teaching state standards that will provide the greatest gains for students.

Teachers are taught to better, and more frequently, evaluate students’ mastery of specific standards and determine whether students are ready for enrichment (building on what they’ve mastered) or re-teaching (going back and relearning standards for which the student did not meet expectations.)

While textbooks will continue to be used as a resource for teachers, they will no longer be the primary source of content for all subject areas. Curriculum reference materials draw heavily from online and other digital data sources.

Merrell says it will be a two- to three-year process to implement the entire Beyond Textbooks program, with teachers receiving periodic trainings. Each year, revised state education standards will be evaluated, and adjustments made to align the curriculum with the new standards.

Merrell believes using a program so directly linked to state standards will improve students’ performance on standardized tests such as the AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards), which is the primary evaluative tool used by the Arizona Department of Education.

“Our teachers and principals have gone above and beyond in their preparation, attending trainings during the spring and summer, and working together on lesson plans and calendars,” said Merrell. “We are very fortunate to have high quality teachers and staff who are willing to do whatever they can to help improve student success and to move our district forward.”