Students in both middle schools of the Bradley County School System have begun using some new curriculum this fall.
The school system has introduced new mathematics texts into Lake Forest Middle School and Ocoee Middle School that are part of the SpringBoard curriculum published by The College Board, the same entity that makes materials for Advanced Placement testing and the SAT college entrance exam.
Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel described it as a “proven” set of curriculum that is closer to aligning with Common Core state standards.
With that focus, he explained that students will be experiencing more hands-on group work in the classroom.
“It’s been shown to help students succeed,” McDaniel said.
Teachers underwent training over the summer to get ready for the textbook switch.
However, this change has not been the middle schools’ first foray into using the SpringBoard curriculum.
Both middle schools began using the College’ Board’s English curriculum during the 2013-14 school year.
“There’s no surprises with it,” Ocoee Middle Principal Ron Spangler said.
Spangler said his school saw improvements in how students performed in English, and his hope is that a new curriculum will also mean good things for math test scores.
While it is too soon to tell just how well they will do in math this year, Spangler said his teachers’ feedback has so far been positive.
“They were excited coming out of the training,” Spangler said.
The teachers reportedly discussed things like adjustments to the “mapping,” the order in which math concepts will be taught, and the pace at which lessons on certain math concepts would be presented to students.
Ritchie Stevenson, principal of Lake Forest, said teachers and students using the new curriculum have so far gone “pretty well,” though he also noted it might be too soon to have made an accurate assessment.
“It’s new and early, so the verdict’s still out on it,” Stevenson said. “But it does make students analyze and process more.”
Last year, Lake Forest did not use any physical textbooks, he explained. Using what the state standards dictated, the school’s teachers met and created lessons that “simply taught the standards.”
Stevenson said the SpringBoard curriculum is different from what was taught last year because it has an additional focus on incorporating language arts skills.
What that amounts to is more word problems that require students to solve equations and explain how they arrive at their answers.
Stevenson said he hopes that additional focus in math class will help lessen the “knowledge gaps” students might have in the area of math before they move on to high school.
Spangler expressed a similar sentiment and said the ultimate goal of a middle school education is to make sure students are well-prepared for high school.
The school system reportedly chose the curriculum because of its emphasis on high school preparedness.
During a May 7, 2013, Bradley County Board of Education meeting, Supervisor of Secondary Education Dan Glasscock gave the board some insight into why the SpringBoard curriculum was chosen for local schools.
Noting that he and his colleagues had carefully researched different options, he said the curriculum being published by the same company that makes AP testing meant that the middle school curriculum could potentially help students be better prepared for high school.
In addition, Glasscock also described it as a curriculum that would lend itself to classroom instruction time rather than just in-class worksheets.
“I really feel ... it will make our good teachers even better,” Glasscock said during that meeting. “It is a program that strengthens the teacher’s role, not minimizes it.”
According to The College Board, the SpringBoard curriculum is “vertically aligned” to cover concepts from the sixth grade to pre-calculus “so that all students benefit from coherence, rigor and a consistent culture of high expectations.”
McDaniel said the curriculum is expected to “up the rigor” of what Bradley County middle schoolers have already been learning in math.