District aligns curriculum across grades

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Whitefish High School

Beginning next fall, Whitefish Schools will move forward with an aligned K-12 curriculum for the first time since 2003.

Whitefish School District Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye said while most Montana schools realign their curriculum standards on a five-year cycle, Whitefish hasn’t gone through a formal alignment process in 16 years.

Curriculum alignment was a priority for the majority of school board candidates prior to this spring’s trustee election, and the district’s recently adopted strategic plan outlines a need to “ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum will be provided to each student” and “implement sustainable and consistent systems of support for learning.”

While the alignment review is the first in 16 years, Delaloye notes that in all the years since 2003, the curriculum has been maintained by teachers and kept up-to-date.

Aligning a curriculum generally refers to selecting a set of textbooks and other related materials that provides consistent learning standards across grades, though the trend now is a push toward digital learning models over textbooks.

“This is, I think, an antiquated model. It’s one that relies on texts, a text book, that drives your education,” Delaloye said. “We grew up with that world, and that’s no longer the case. With digital tech being what it is, with the level of what we work with in terms of intervention and support, the model is shifting.”

The alignment now is just a formal reset of the district’s curriculum foundation, and moving forward the curriculum will see yearly reviews by Delaloye that are based on student assessment and teacher input.

“This is not in isolation to this year, it’s not something that happened out of a whim. This has been multiple years, multiple curriculum reviews, multiple curriculum alignments,” he said. “There’s a level of coordination that’s happening now, and an intentionality to K-12 alignment, but the teachers have been really doing the work previously and currently. They are the ones that are taking responsibility for this.”

The newer models of digital learning allow for larger margins within grade levels, Delaloye says.

He uses an example of a third-grade class, where students’ reading levels are taught at that grade level but may actually span between first and sixth grade, depending on the child.

“I can’t have a first-grade and sixth-grade textbook and everything in between for them to access, but with digital learning, they can [have that]. They can get the foundation in the class, the core curriculum, and then they can have those extension activities,” he said.

Likewise, there’s also a push to use data to create a better picture of the district’s students.

A key piece of the puzzle moving forward is to take teacher assessments and make decisions based on that data to improve individual students’ learning, Delaloye explains. With that, there’s also a push to factor in external factors that may affect a student’s ability to learn on a given day.

The biggest part of making those decisions is the teacher.

“We’re trying to create a model that allows for teacher input, teacher processing and ultimately agreement and consistency in the taught curriculum,” Delaloye said.

Just as assessments are integral to adapting to a child’s learning progress, Delaloye also notes they’re not the be-all-end-all.

“It is important not to hang our educational worldview on that. It is a test taken once a year, and so just like a teacher would not base their entire grade of a student on a single assessment, we can’t do that as a district,” he said.

The district’s strategic plan is available online at www.wsd44.org.

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