What does it mean to be a leader of curriculum, instruction, and assessment?

[Note to readers: This column was printed in a November 2017 edition of Iowa ASCD’s The Source e-newsletter.]

What does it mean to be a leader of curriculum, instruction, and assessment?

Not too long ago, I challenged readers to join Iowa ASCD this school year by digging deeper into what it means to be a curriculum lead.  According to our organization, the functions of our work as a curriculum lead include being leaders of…

  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Data Analysis
  • Processes
  • Professional Development
  • Relationship Building
  • Performance
  • Operations, and
  • Change.

In this column, I’d like to describe my experiences leading curriculum, instruction, and assessment, several key questions curriculum leads might ask themselves, and a few resources to further learning in this function.  Throughout the year, future columns will be dedicated to the remaining curriculum leadership functions.  Whether you are a principal also serving in a curriculum leadership role, a full-time central office administrator, or an aspiring teacher leader, I hope this information will be helpful to you in growing your curriculum leadership capacity.

“Effective curriculum leaders must assure that there is a laser-like focus on the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment with identified district-wide standards and benchmarks at every grade level.”  When I was a classroom teacher in the early 2000s, the role of the curriculum director was to assemble a team of teachers and task them with creating a list of the standards and benchmarks for a given content area.  Too often, we grabbed the standards document from a neighboring school district, made a few tweaks and called it our own.  We probably rushed through the standards identification process because we were more concerned about selecting the next textbook series.  With any luck, the materials we recommended for purchase might have some degree of alignment with the standards we documented earlier in the year!

Enter the Iowa Core Curriculum Essential Concepts and Skills in the first decade of the 21st century. Finally! Iowa became the last state in the country to adopt state standards.  Gone are the days of selecting our own standards.  From the outside, selecting textbooks and accompanying materials seems like it should be an easier task now that we have state and national standards.  Not so fast. I often tell the teachers in my district, “there’s no such thing as the Iowa Core police!”  In other words, just because a publisher uses a “standards-aligned” sticker doesn’t mean that we as curriculum leaders should accept it as face value.  I recommend that curriculum and materials committees consider using tools such as the “Publishers Criteria for the Common Core Standards for Mathematics” (available at achievethecore.org) as a starting point when screening sample materials.

Using these tools, curriculum committees might ask questions such as, “Are there any chapters or units that appear in our standards documents?”  You may be surprised to see chapters and sections that publishers carried over from previous editions of the text without any consideration to the grade-level standards.  Curriculum committees might also consider investigating the level of cognitive complexity the materials assume students should be learning the standards.  Resources on IowaCore.gov note some standards’ alignment with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.  A well-designed set of materials should consider a wide range of questions and activities within Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.

Finally, curriculum leaders must be concerned with how the standards are assessed in classrooms across the district, beyond vendor-provided tests.  Solution Tree authors and speakers Rick and Becky Dufour have written extensively on the need for teams of teachers to develop common assessments based upon power/priority standards.  Curriculum leads might consider providing these teams with protocols and processes for developing power/priority standards, such as the ones written in books by Larry Ainsworth.  Using these most important standards, teachers should be allocated significant time during the contract day to create common assessments for the purpose of informing classroom instruction.  When two or more teachers analyze data from these assessments, effective teaching strategies can be shared and students in need of additional assistance can be identified for supplemental support.

In closing, curriculum leaders are constantly painting the picture of a shared vision for the integration of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  Because it seems state standards are constantly under revision (Hello, ELA, science and social studies standards as of late!), our work in this area will never be done.  Relying on neighboring district documents and publisher labels may be an easy way out, however a viable alternative exists.  I hope you will consider getting your feet wet and engaging teachers in a collaborative process to understand the nexus between standards, instruction and assessment in all content areas.  Through this deep dive, we can develop the collective capacity of the organization to assure that all students are successful.

Resources to further learning as a leader of curriculum, instruction, and assessment:

  • Leading Curriculum Development by Jon Wiles (2009, Corwin Press)
  • Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker (2011, ASCD)
  • Common Formative Assessments: How to Connect Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment by Larry Ainsworth (2006, Corwin Press)
  • Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning by Douglas Reeves (2007, Solution Tree)

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