Moving From Rigor To Relevance To Relationships

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"Only nine percent of Americans think most high schools students are being challenged by their schoolwork. Seventy-five percent feel that America's ability to compete in the world will weaken if 25 years from now, high schools have not changed, according to "Americans Speak on High School Reform, Educational Testing Service," June, 2005.

Earlier, I introduced Rigor, Relevance and Relationships as key factors in preparing students for success.

I would like to further explore the notion of rigor. Rigor implies a structured, exacting, thorough approach to an endeavor. With this in mind, written curriculum based upon rigorous academic standards is critical to student achievement.

Once it is determined what students are expected to learn and demonstrate before proceeding, assessments can be designed around the skills necessary to achieve the standards. Only then can instructional materials be chosen and activities designed to bring students to competency.

"In What Works In Schools: Translating Research Into Action," Robert Marzano asserts that a "guaranteed and viable" curriculum is the number one school-level factor in impacting student achievement. "Guaranteed" meaning "... states and districts give clear guidance to teachers regarding the content to be addressed in specific courses at specific grade levels."

"Viable" meaning "...articulated curriculum content for a given course or grade level can be adequately addressed in the time available."

Over the last several years, Arizona has worked hard to develop a set of very high standards for all core academic subjects including mathematics, science, reading, writing and social studies. As well, standards have been established for a number of other areas including foreign language, art, music, technology and workplace skills.

Each set of standards is articulated by grade level. These standards can be found on the Arizona Department of Education Web site www.ade.az.gov/standards/contentstandards.

Our PHS staff has spent the last year using the state content standards to develop curriculum maps for all core courses. Each map indicates what students must learn and when they should be learning it. Instructional materials are also included.

These are working documents that will be refined and added to each year including alternate and enrichment activities and materials.

Rigor and organized curriculum notebooks become little more than glorified doorstops without outstanding instructional staff. More on this as we move from "rigor" to relevance and relationships. For now, I'll say we are building an excellent team including teachers like Rita Schoeneman. Schoeneman received an M.S. in botany from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in biology from Iowa State University.

Her high standards for performance and business-like attitude have produced a curriculum map for conceptual physics that is organized, rigorous and detailed. Her no-nonsense approach coupled with high expectations have also significantly raised student achievement.

On a final note, Willard Daggett uses the term "stretch learning" as an indicator of high expectations for student achievement. Stretch learning is the idea that a high performing school allows students to feel confident that they will have the support and encouragement to risk taking advanced classes and be successful.

Research has shown that students will raise their own level of commitment to meet high expectations.

I am happy to report the number of students taking advanced placement courses has gone from 65 in 2007-2008 to 183 this coming year. We continue to improve.

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