Officials: Curriculum changes will close education gaps

Officials: Curriculum changes will close education gaps

SCITUATE – When Supt. Carol Blanchette began working for the Scituate School Department more than a year ago, she said it was apparent to her through talking with parents and staff that the district needed to take a closer look at its curriculum.

At the middle school level, students entering from the three elementary schools had educational gaps that made it particularly clear that a uniform curriculum was needed, she said.

Blanchette said the whole community felt the inequity in local education, and said school principals were talking about coherence and alignment.

For quite some time, teachers “cherry-picked” curriculum and were not consistent from class to class or school to school on what was being taught, said Blanchette.

“The exposure gaps developed and were very clear. There was a desire to find a curriculum that could be aligned and consistent with all kids,” she said.

She said she worked with teachers and administrators to create focus groups to select curriculum based on Ed Reports, a nonprofit that reviews educational material for students in grades K-12.

For the focus groups, the only parameter she gave was that selections be made from the Ed Reports list with positive user ratings.

A new curriculum was selected for English and math for all grade levels and will be implemented in a staggered method to avoid overwhelming teachers and students.

“When you can be better, you should try and be better,” Blanchette said.

This year, grades 2, 3, and 6 are starting the new curriculum. Next year, grades 1, 4, and 7 will begin and in year three, the curriculum will reach remaining students in grades 5 and 8.

“We tried to be thoughtful about it. There is a pent-up enthusiasm to get started,” she said.

Blanchette said the secret to the success, which was backed by improved Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System, or RICAS, test scores this year, is work being done on both curriculum and professional development.

“It’s not enough to just have an exemplary curriculum. You need the teacher who understands it,” she said.

Consistency with the curriculum is essential, and she said the schools are holding a running record and ongoing assessment to track progress and make instructional adjustments.

This year, she began a more significant push into professional development and training. So far, she said, everyone seems to be embracing the change.

Fundamentally, Blanchette said she believes students enjoy a challenge when learning a new subject, as do teachers in learning a new curriculum.

“Sometimes, we sell our kids short to not let them think things through. We want kids to struggle and to be disciplined in thinking and perseverance,” Blanchette said.

School Committee member Carolyn Dias reached out to The Valley Breeze & Observer to express her gratitude about the work Blanchette has done. She said unlike the new athletic field that is like a “shiny penny,” curriculum decisions do not get the buzz they deserve.

“It’s not like a beautiful new field, but for me, it’s so much more important and it’s the critical work that needs to be done in our school and our district that, in my opinion, has been neglected over the years,” Dias said.

She said the significant reforms brought on by Blanchette, the former chief of teaching and learning at the Rhode Island Department of Education, are important in the classrooms.

While Blanchette said improved RICAS scores were a good sign of the work done this year, she expects to see even better RICAS results next year.

Most importantly, she said she no longer wants to see exposure gaps between classes and schools. Then, she said, she’ll know the curriculum changes and professional development are working.

Blanchette said the district will begin looking into other math and ELA curriculums in five years to ensure Scituate is teaching the best ones available.

In the meantime, she said the district will begin looking at the science curriculum for grades 6-12 this year and begin looking at social studies next year.

She said she hopes to have a new curriculum in place in all areas by the end of 2022.

“It’s not business as usual,” she said.