The school system joined districts across the state in implementing the state’s new math curriculum last year, said Coline Worthy, who handles curriculum and instruction for Cleburne County Schools. The local district also is implementing new reading curriculum this year, according to Worthy, a former instruction specialist for the Alabama State Department of Education who also handles professional development and certification for the Cleburne County school system.
The state Board of Education approved the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, Alabama’s version of Common Core standards, in 2010 to increase rigor for students and to better prepare students for life after high school.
“We can already see huge, huge improvement from the beginning of the year about how kids are learning and how they’re able to think,” said Superintendent Claire Dryden.
But two of the board members who have children in the school system said they’re seeing lower grades and more frustration.
“Our grades are dropping,” said board member Donya Beam.
Board member Hope Lee agreed.
“Ours are too, and it’s causing lots of stress,” Lee said.
Worthy did a presentation for the board including an explanation of why the changes were needed.
“Business leaders all over Alabama are complaining about graduates who come to work for them and can’t solve problems,” Worthy said. “You have to follow them around telling them what to do.”
The state introduced the new curriculum focused on teaching students thinking skills rather than just facts, Dryden said.
In Cleburne County, the administrators have analyzed test data and decided to focus especially on the middle school years, where students tend to lose proficiency, Worthy said.
Dryden said the loss in proficiency among middle schoolers is a statewide problem. She said the curriculum wasn’t lined up properly moving from elementary school to middle school grades. Dryden also said there has been a lack of professional development for middle school teachers.
Throughout the state, students are finishing third or fourth grade well prepared to move on, Worthy said. However, data shows that student proficiency begins to drop in middle school.
In Cleburne County, students who are considered proficient in fourth grade have a 50 percent chance of being categorized non-proficient when they finish fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth grades, Worthy said.
To help improve proficiency among middle-schoolers, Worthy said, teachers will conduct daily assessments to see if the students are learning the course material.
“We would like for teachers at the end of the day to say, ‘OK, out of 28 students in my class, I know that four of them did not accomplish the goal today,’ and then create a plan as a result of that,” Worthy said.
In addition, the school system will be teaching reading and writing in all subjects not just reading or English, Worthy said.
This all requires extra training for the teachers who may be unsure of how to implement the changes in the classroom, Dryden said.
According to Worthy, school officials have put together a team that is attending training at Jacksonville State University in instructional strategies. She said those team members will incorporate the new material into their classrooms and then share the new techniques with their colleagues.
The increased rigor means teachers will have to help students work up to the level where they should be performing, Worthy said.
“We really try to make this not be a stressful thing, by giving them (teachers) things that they can do to ease through this,” Worthy said.
For instance, Dryden said, teachers read through the first assessment with students to make sure they know what they’re supposed to do.
“And then, we start backing off as they become more able to do it,” Dryden said. “Some classes are ready for that and some classes and some students are not ready for that.”
Change is hard, Dryden said. There is always some difficulty as teachers and students get used to new curricula and teaching methods. But she said she thinks the end result will be worth it.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Dryden said of the new standards. “It eases instruction and the kids are doing well. So that’s what we’re trying.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.