Collaborating and Advancing Curriculum
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is currently in the forefront of P-12 education. The important concept of these research and evidence based standards is the definition of what all students, P-12, should know and be able to do in order to be college or career ready. Forty-five states have adopted these standards, which public schools in these states are required to follow. Catholic schools, however, are free to adapt the standards to meet their own needs and Catholic mission. For many years, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has developed curriculum standards, entitled “Graded Courses of Study” (GCS) that are based upon the standards of the state of Ohio. Essentially, the Archdiocese takes the state standards, makes them more rigorous, and infuses them with the Catholic faith. Beginning in 2011, the Common Core was used as the basis for the Ohio state standards in mathematics and reading/language arts. The most recent Archdiocesan GCS documents have adapted the standards in these subjects. With an emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and real-world applications the new GCS’s are intended to add even more rigor to an already rigorous Catholic school curriculum.
Grounded in the request by Dayton-area Catholic school principals for assistance in implementing the new GCS’s, principals and staff of all Dayton area Catholic elementary schools were invited to participate in a special day of professional development on August 15, 2013, at Ascension Catholic Church. The mission was to help teachers transition to the new GCS in the area of reading and language arts. Dr. Mary-Kate Sableski and Dr. Jackie Arnold, Clinical Faculty for the School of Education and Health Sciences Department of Teacher Education at the University of Dayton, answered the call to instruct and guide the training. A total of 275 teachers and administrators participated with very favorable reviews. The training furnished fundamental information about the standards within the GCS and how they invite a focus on deep comprehension of complex text, the use of the writing process, heavier emphasis on nonfiction text, greater focus on oral presentation of knowledge and ideas, and other key components of the new GCS.
New textbooks and standardized assessments, including the SAT, the traditional college entrance exam, will now include the CCSS, an indication of the influence of the CCSS initiative across many aspects of education in the United States. Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati continue their tradition of excellence and rigor through this preparation of teachers to deliver the Archdiocesan GCS that capitalized on CCSS and enhances these standards with Catholic identity and an infusion of the most challenging expectations for students.
Thirty-eight self-selected Literacy Leaders representing the participating Catholic elementary schools will continue meeting in a series of workshops throughout the school year. These leaders will incorporate the information and experiences at their schools to fuel the implementation of the new GCS. Having already met two times since August, Arnold and Sableski have discussed nonfiction texts, text complexity, and best practice literacy instruction. They have also discussed current understandings of the new GCS standards.
Literacy Leaders are glad to be involved because they realize the value of the standards as well as the direction of Sableski and Arnold. All have shared that they have taken the new standards back to their buildings and are adapting them to meet the needs of their own faculty. Fellow teachers have been very receptive to the suggestions of their coaching colleagues who share knowledge that will benefit all students. The professional judgment of teachers is respected as they implement the standards in their own classrooms.
According to Sableski and Arnold, the goal of these follow-up sessions is two-fold to assist teachers in the interpretation and application of the new GCS standards, and to foster communication, cooperation, and sharing of resources between schools in the Dayton deanery and, ultimately, beyond.