Best Practice Links
Middle School Themes
Theme - Curriculum and Academic Goals
- All stakeholders involved in developing and aligning curriculum & goals across grades and subjects.
- Teachers collaborate to ensure consistency and access for all students.
In higher-performing schools, administrators and teachers view changes to state standards as opportunities to examine and improve teaching and learning. The district encourages continual revision of the curriculum to meet the standards. Curriculum decisions begin with discussions among groups of teachers representing each grade level in each content area. Not only are teachers involved in developing the curriculum map and academic goals, but also in constantly revising the map based on student performance in light of the NYS Standards and Assessments. Any new initiatives are followed up with appropriate training. Academic goals inform all decisions about program initiatives and expenditures. Frequent (often daily) team meetings focused on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student progress help keep the goals alive and prompt modifications to enable student success.
Efforts focus on providing the same curriculum to all students; special educators and other specialists support core teams to help remove barriers to learning, whatever those barriers may be. Many schools focus on improving literacy as the basis of all learning and have thus integrated literacy instruction into all academic areas, including arts and technology. In some schools departments administer the same tests at the same time; in others, teachers within a department do so voluntarily. Educators in higher-performing middle schools also reach out to their elementary and high school colleagues to articulate the curriculum across grades above and below those they serve.
Some differences between higher- and average-performing schools
All schools in the study have made efforts to improve student literacy. In the majority of the higher-performing schools, this includes integrating reading, writing, or literacy instruction across the curriculum. Teachers in the average-performing schools spoke of the need for stronger reading and writing skills but seemed to struggle individually with helping students in those areas, without support from the school or district. The integration that did take place was more likely in special education or AIS (Academic Intervention Services), but writing was spoken of as something to get to after students had grasped the content rather than as a vehicle for helping students think about and learn content.Teachers in the higher performers are aware of, use, and are part of the development and revision of curriculum maps. Their districts have provided time and resources to support formal curriculum mapping. Teachers in average performers might have a curriculum “in the cupboard,” but it was more likely handed down from above rather than teacher-developed. Educators in average-performing schools are generally aware of the need for curriculum maps but leaders have not yet found the means to get that work completed and/or intimately involve teachers in the process.
Teachers at Westbury Middle School use the district curriculum map to plan their instruction. And in Queensbury, detailed curriculum maps clarify essential questions, content, and skills. Port Chester Middle School shares goals and action steps with community members.