There is an increase in curriculum alignment activities amidst educational institutions in an effort to strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of instruction and assessment programs (Clarke, Stow, Ruebling & Kayona, 2006; Marsh & Willis, 2003). The necessity to remove disparity in teaching and learning is compelling educational leaders to scrutinize the skills and concepts taught in schools (Marsh & Willis, 2003). The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative of 2002 also warrants the importance of curriculum alignment activities (Clarke, Stow, Ruebling & Kayona, 2006).
Educational leaders should contemplate three essential considerations in curriculum development. According to Clark, Stow, Ruebling and Kayona (2006) the written curriculum documents need to, ” give direction, focus, and accountability in the learning environment (p. 258); two, educational leaders should revise the curriculum documents on a regular basis; and three, learner outcomes that identify what students learn prior to graduations must align with the state’s content standards. Unfortunately, many educational institutions have yet to integrate successfully these standards into the curriculum or maintain a written curriculum to direct instruction (Clarke, Stow, Ruebling & Kayona, 2006). Lastly, the significant role of educational leaders to curriculum development and implementation is apparent with the alignment of written, taught, and tested curriculum. English and Larson (as cited in Clarke, Stow, Ruebling & Kayona, 2006) assert that the absence of curriculum alignment might generate lower achievement when teachers teach material that is not in the curriculum document and not part of material that will be assessed. This treatise will analyze the curriculum articulation and alignment between elementary and middle school social studies, specifically, fourth and sixth grade. In addition, this treatise will include a plan to improve curriculum articulation and alignment between elementary and middle school social studies, improve student academic progression, and the consistency of the curriculum.
Summary of Original Analysis
The curriculum for the Kentucky School District is a standards-based design that centers upon student ability (Kentucky Department of Education, 2007a). The curriculum is divided by subject, grade level, and communicates an explanation of the core content for each subject. Additionally, the curricular document references the mission of the Kentucky School District and the objectives for each subject (KDE, 2007a).
The Social Studies curriculum document for the Kentucky School District contains five main ideas for elementary and middle school as well as academic expectations for each category. The main ideas and academic expectations are the same for both elementary and middle school. The configuration of subject matter for the adjacent educational levels includes understandings, skills and concepts, and core content for assessment (KDE, 2007b; KDE, 2007c).
The central ideology within the two educational levels includes government and civics, cultures and societies, economics, geography, and historical perspectives. In government and civics the elementary school curriculum focus is on the state of Kentucky while the middle school focus is on the nature of governments. The cultures and societies understandings are the same for the educational levels; however, the skills and concepts switch between an understanding of the nature of culture for elementary students and an understanding of the complexities of culture for middle school students. In the economics section, the understandings are the same for elementary school and middle school only for the first unit. The skills and concepts become more complex, elementary school focusing on Kentucky’s economics while middle school focuses on United States and world economics. The understandings and skills and concepts are the same for elementary and middle school, the only difference is that elementary school focuses on Kentucky geography and middle school focuses on earth’s geography. In addition, regarding the historical perspectives section, the elementary school concentration is on the history of Kentucky while the middle school concentration is on countries and accounts including political, social, and economic (Kentucky Department of Education, 2007b; KDE, 2007c).
The curriculum documents of the Kentucky School district for elementary and middle school does contain vertical alignment between the adjacent educational levels. The understandings, skills, and concepts become more complex among the two levels and students should comprehend the skills and concepts of the elementary school prior to the skills and concepts of middle school. The elementary school concentration is narrow while the concentration of the middle school broadens. There is no mention of horizontal alignment in either of these curriculum documents.
Improvement of Curriculum Alignment, Student Progression and Curriculum Consistency
Curriculum alignment makes an effort to warrant agreement between the intentions of the curriculum and the instruction of the curriculum through testing of what is taught, as a result, there is little or no room for variations of curriculum implementation. Educational leaders then evaluate teachers by how well students meet set standards by standardized tests (Marsh & Willis, 2003).
Vertical alignment associates subjects that have a relationship and a specific order then corresponds the curriculum to the specific order. Therefore, students will obtain essential knowledge before the next subject. Vertical alignment assists with reinforcement of material, offers knowledge to teachers in regard to aptitude of students, improves education for students, and communication between teachers at different educational levels (Melvin, 2007). Horizontal alignment combines curricular objectives transversely between subjects. Students benefit from horizontal alignment because learning transfers to new circumstances and realize the importance of the knowledge (Melvin, 2007).
The social studies curriculum within the Kentucky School District between elementary and middle school does emphasize standards and states objectives for students to learn. In order to improve curriculum alignment, the curriculum at these adjacent educational levels should emphasize these objectives at every suitable occurrence and not only within a specific grade. The curriculum should also contain objectives for continuing development, which can focus on learning and testing when suitable (Glatthorn, 1999). In addition, the curriculum should contain enrichment units for all students. Teachers can then review the standards and align the written, taught and tested curriculum. By collecting the known state standards and using resourcefulness, teachers can develop units that will interest their students. Teachers can then apply some flexibility, adjusting the curriculum to meet the needs and abilities of the students. In this method, teachers align the tested curriculum with the written curriculum and the written with what is taught. As they implement the curriculum, the teachers can also add objectives for continuing development and enrichment units. This procedure will permit students to perform well on tests and present students with comprehensive units of study that will hold their attention (Glatthorn, 1999).
The standards-based curriculum that the Kentucky School District maintains includes lists of fundamental details and abilities at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and no intentions for linking the fundamental details into more significant learning outcomes. The state-mandated progression is then bound by fundamental and practical knowledge with little thought of lifelong learning competence that is applicable to life and other branches of learning (Marsh & Willis, 2003). A curriculum that expresses the need to address the whole student and a concentration on higher-level cognitive development while maintaining the standards-based curriculum is best to implement for these two adjacent educational levels (Wraga, 1999).
The implementation of a combined curriculum that is holistic, multicultural, inclusive, student centered, and integrated, will improve curriculum alignment both vertically and horizontally. Furthermore, this type of curriculum will improve student academic progression and aid in consistency of the curriculum. The standards-based curriculum is important but must contain curriculum alignment part of a broader curriculum that encourages lifelong learning (Marsh & Willis, 2003; Wraga, 1999).
A curriculum that includes intrapersonal development encourages the student to associate and discuss learning in regard to his or her own life. When students are able to develop higher-level thinking skills they will be more prone to inquire, infer and combine learning and relationships across subjects (Marsh & Willis, 2003). Teaching and modeling social skills across the curriculum enables students to work cooperatively with other individuals, aids in team building, and builds conflict management skills. Implementing moral development into the curriculum, including responsibility, honesty, reliability, and obligations to impartiality and equality will gradually guide students to reflect on moral issues in society (Marsh & Willis, 2003).
In addition, the curriculum within the Kentucky School District shall be multicultural in order to align the curriculum with the present society. Students will learn to value each culture that is present within the school and communication will develop between cultures. The school needs to incorporate multicultural education across the curriculum obtaining horizontal alignment and should be a component of the curriculum for each subject and at each grade level (Marsh & Willis, 2003). An adaptive curriculum that is inclusive at all grade levels is beneficial to all students and will not only offer students with disabilities equal opportunities for learning but will offer all students an opportunity to embrace differences among individuals. A curriculum that is student-centered focuses on the students and not the material to be covered, curriculum materials, or written goals. Incorporating a student-centered curriculum is applicable to a student’s life and community (Marsh & Willis, 2003)
When standards-based curriculum combines with high-stakes testing, there is a limit in the curriculum, inferior instruction, and conical student learning since teachers teach to test (Marsh & Willis, 2003). When educators implement a combined curriculum in association with a standards-based curriculum and high-stakes testing, they can assure students a quality education. Furthermore, student assessments are essential and in an attempt to aid in student academic progression educators should create tests that correctly measure student learning and amend tests for at-risk learners (Layton & Lock, 2007). Teachers can discover how to better evaluate test results to identify students’ learning needs and to revise instruction. Traditional tests can evaluate assessment but include limits of measurement due to isolated learning and concentration on recognition and recall (Marsh & Willis, 2003).
This plan also incorporates authentic assessment, which will better demonstrate student learning. Authentic assessment necessitates the incorporation and relevance of skills essential to answer complex problems and offers better substantiation of the ability of students to flourish in everyday situations. Students have an opportunity to explain themselves, which offers teachers a better understanding of the learning process and immediate feedback for students. In addition, the use of authentic assessment establishes teacher collegiality and collaboration and expands teacher inquiry and reflection. Authentic assessment aligns with the curriculum objectives with various types of learning, basic knowledge and skills, and higher-level knowledge and skills (Cumming & Maxwell, 1999; Marsh & Willis, 2003).
Curriculum alignment is the practice of corresponding the content of a curriculum with the use of tests to assess student learning (Marsh and Willis, 2003). Curriculum alignment necessitates educational institutions to generate consistency in the objectives, textbooks, guides, and tests that construct the curriculum of subjects (Marsh & Willis, 2003). Educational leaders measure academic achievement by standard testing as a means to establish what takes place in schools. Educational institutions perceive effectiveness by increasing academic achievement and identify the quality of the curriculum as a problem for declining academic achievement. Therefore, aligning the taught curriculum with the intended curriculum appears to resolve this dilemma (Marsh & Willis, 2003). In addition, by incorporating the preceding aspects into the Kentucky School District curriculum, a more meaningful learning experience can occur for students and educators. Curriculum alignment will transpire both vertically and horizontally, student academic progression will improve as well as consistency of the curriculum (Marsh & Willis, 2003).
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