Over the next three years School District 2 will spend massive amounts of time and effort to adopt a set of nationwide curriculum standards for its schools.
Montana is one of the last states to join the Common Core Standards initiative, and SD2 officials say that’s a distinct advantage.
The other states and school districts to adopt earlier in the process have encountered and solved many of the troubles and pitfalls as they’ve implemented the new curriculum, Gail Surwill, SD2’s curriculum director, said.
SD2 probably can benefit from their experience, she said.
However, SD2’s relatively late adoption also means less time to make all the required changes. And there are many.
In most grades, English and math curriculum will become more difficult, especially at the elementary level.
In the high schools, students will be required to take three years of math instead of two.
SD2 officials figure it’ll cost the district $1.7 million to implement.
“It’s significant,” said SD2 interim Superintendent Jack Copps.
In the past, states have set their own standards and administered their own standardized tests. Common Core is an effort by individual states to unify curriculum standards across the country.
The problems with a state-based model were thrown into relief when No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2002, Copps said.
States with less rigorous academic standards had an easier time complying with progress-based NCLB requirements. It also meant those states were graduating and sending off to college students with lower academic proficiency than other states, Copps said.
As questions about the future of NCLB arose at the end of the decade, some states got together and hatched the idea of implementing a common academic standard and standardized test across all states.
Known as the Common Core State Standards initiative, all but five states — Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia — have joined. Montana adopted the standards last year.
SD2 has a year to plan and write its new curriculum and align it across the district. Beginning in August 2013, officials will begin the new curriculum’s implementation.
Starting the following year — the 2014-2015 school year — SD2 will begin giving the new Common Core standardized tests.
Copps sees the implementation as a good thing for the district. Most of all, he said, it’ll give teachers more flexibility in how they teach their subjects and more creativity in crafting their lessons.
A large part of the $1.7 million implementation price tag for SD2 is the need to buy new textbooks. More than $1 million will go toward new textbooks, $886,000 of that to a new reader program for the kindergarten through third grade classes.
“The truth is,” Copps said, “we would need those new textbooks even if we didn’t have the Common Core requirements.”
One of the five mill levies the district is putting before voters next month is an $880,000 general fund mill levy for the elementary schools that will go expressly for those textbook purchases.