Over the last 10 years Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) leaders have experienced ongoing difficulty in aligning classroom curricula to standards measured in state tests. For years, School Board members have voiced concern about when curricula will be properly aligned. According to information offered at School Board meetings spanning the last decade, administrators have repeatedly stated their goal of having classes aligned by May the following year.
Last week, board members were again told that curricula would be aligned by May for K-8, and that the high school would take until the end of the school year.
Administrators told the board that they had made headway in aligning coursework with what students are expected to learn: elementary school curricula have been aligned, core classes at the middle school meet the standards set by the state, and electives and math at the high school are on par with state expectations.
Aligning curricula across the district with changing state expectations has not been an easy task. As standardized tests have repeatedly shown district students' scores falling short of state averages, district leaders have looked at aligning curricula as a way to improve academic performance.
In November 2003, after the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was implemented, Sue Roehrich, who was then the Curriculum Director, noted the difficulties of having to meet curriculum goals with a large staff. She criticized NCLB’s new reading program as being too rigid for special education students. Then School Board member Natalie Siderius noted that teachers wanted more latitude in the classroom when it came to the new reading program.
“Working with this staff, sometimes when you give them latitude they don’t follow the curriculum at all,” responded Roehrich. “Some of our staff need to be guided and coached to be successful with this program.”
Throughout the next decade, School Board members continually requested information regarding alignment of subject matter to state specifications. A curriculum audit in 2006 showed there was much work to be done, and board members have since pressed administrators for specific information on how long it would take.
Last week, Board Chairperson Mohamed Elhindi asked how closely the curricula are currently aligned to standards, and was told the work would be complete by the end of the current school year.
“The teachers are motivated,” high school principal Kelly Halverson explained.
History of alignment
In 2006, the School Board hired a consultant to complete a curriculum audit, in part to address issues with aligning coursework at the high school with state standards.
In September of 2007, auditors noted: “Public school teachers today no longer have the option of closing the door and doing their own thing. Without this alignment, the [Winona Senior High School] curriculum will not reflect the clearly defined expectations for students [which has been] established at the state and national levels. Ultimately, students may be left at a disadvantage when moving from high school to college or the world of work.”
Auditors explained that teachers and staff need to understand the importance of curriculum as well as instruction, as they had encountered a variety of different opinions on the concept over the course of the curriculum audit.
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) were created at the high school in March of 2008. PLCs, or teacher groups, were originally created in response to NCLB and first implemented in the elementary schools. Now, the teacher workgroups have been implemented districtwide, and are expected to both align curricula and work to improve academic achievement.
During a School Board meeting in 2009, Curriculum Director Jenny Bushman explained that curricula and how they are aligned with state standards is one of the most important factors in addressing low test scores. Teachers have been reluctant to restructure coursework, some believing current tests may be a passing trend, Bushman explained.
“Being in education and seeing things come and go as they do, some people think these tests are going to go away,” Bushman said during the 2009 meeting. “We used to teach and hope for the best. Now we have information and we know what students are going to be tested on. From personal teaching experience, when I truly aligned my teaching with the standards I saw a huge improvement.”
Last fall, district administrators promised board members that curricula would be aligned by the end of that school year. Bushman stressed the importance of that work during that 2012 meeting: “I think the biggest issue we need to correct in this district is alignment with standards." Students, she explained, will continue to struggle with standardized tests until that work is done.