Curriculum Change Coming To Verona Public Schools

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Don’t look now, but middle school is about to get a whole lot harder in Verona.

In a special presentation to the Board of Education last Tuesday, Director of Instructional Studies Elizabeth Jewett outlined a series of curriculum changes that will be coming to Verona’s public schools this fall. While the changes, which are being mandated by a national curriculum-change movement, affect virtually every grade, they will likely fall hardest on students who are in, or about to enter, H.B. Whitehorne Middle School.

The bulk of the changes are the result of New Jersey’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. This is a series of rigorous guidelines for math and English instruction that grew out of research for the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The Common Core curriculum strives to teach what kids really need to succeed in college and at work. So you’ll find a new sequence for fiction in the language arts curriculum, but much greater emphasis on non-fiction, or so-called informational texts. It’s a common sense recognition of the fact that, in the workplace, we read more instructional manuals and contracts than Shakespeare. New Jersey adopted the Common Core in June 2010 and began phasing them in last year. But, Trenton being Trenton, no one has yet to clarify how the Common Core will affect the standardized tests that our children have been drilling to perfect.

The slide below from last week’s presentation tells the story in a nutshell. There will be 11 new academic requirements in fifth grade that were previously in Verona’s curriculum at a higher level and 14 that will be coming to sixth grade from higher grades–sometimes much higher, Jewett said. Middle schoolers will also be reading works as complex as those that had once been handed to ninth and tenth graders. Persuasive writing, a staple of the middle school writing program, will be given the heave-ho in favor of more writing based on research, so-called argument writing.

Non-fiction texts will become 70% of the reading in grades 9 to 12. But before you imagine a “Fahrenheit 451” bonfire of books now on the school shelves, you should know that the Common Core counts reading done for science classes as part of its informational texts requirement. The emphasis in math will be on what educators like to call “number sense”, which will mean a re-jiggering of Algebra I and II content and a shifting of geometry work to the high school.

The goal in all of this is to twofold: To make sure that Verona remains one of the state’s top-performing districts, of course, but also to assure that, no matter which Verona elementary school a child attends, he or she arrives at middle school with the same material mastered.

Trenton also is edging toward using Common Core mastery as a measurement of teacher performance, but that’s not fully spelled out yet either. The state is currently testing a teacher evaluation system in 11 districts statewide, none of which are directly comparable to Verona. What we know now is that, beginning in September 2013, 50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on how well their kids are doing. The remaining 50% will be based on the evaluation system, which could cost Verona $50,000 in software and training. Superintendent Steven A. Forte said at last week’s meeting that the district is looking to reduce that cost by forming a consortium with the school districts of Glen Ridge and Caldwell-West Caldwell.

You can read the April 10 curriculum presentation here.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi. Just to fill in a gap in the above information, Trenton will not be handling the standardized testing, as the plan is to move to a federally-mandated national test by 2014. NJ has chosen the PARCC, which is one of two national tests from which states can choose. There is an unknown issue about 2013, as the contract for the NJ ASK expires this year, so nobody seems to know at this point what test will be administered in 2013.

    Also, your comment about “50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on how well their kids are doing” is a little misleading. While the state might be able to mandate teacher evaluation methodology, at this point it cannot mandate what districts do with this information as it goes directly against existing teacher contracts in each district. More time needs to pass to see how this will actually play out.

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