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Galt school districts aim for a ‘seamless curriculum’

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Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:02 am, Tue Mar 27, 2012.

When they graduate from McCaffrey Middle School and head to either Liberty Ranch or Galt high schools, students should be able to pick up in ninth grade where eighth grade left off.

But Galt schools are in two different districts headed by separate administrations.

And although California school districts align curriculum and instruction to the California state standards for all content areas, the transition is not always seamless.

The most consistent shared discussions between middle school and high school teachers has been through Advancement Via Individual Determination participation for college readiness, according to Galt Joint Union Elementary School District superintendent Karen Schauer.

Middle school and high school teachers have worked together during the AVID summer conferences in Sacramento and during trainings at the Sacramento County Office of Education. The program teaches college-readiness courses to average academic learners, with the goal of closing the achievement gap.

This isn't an issue in Lodi Unified School District, where most students entering the district's high schools attended one of the district's middle schools or K-8 campuses.

In Galt, there have been many conversations between the two districts to more often address consistency with curriculum, according to elementary school board president John Gordon.

In January, when the board received an update on those articulation efforts, McCaffrey Principal Cleo Del Toro-Anguiano presented student performance results showing the positive achievement results AVID practices are having in classrooms where AVID is used. The program is also being used at the high school level and can be put into place in fourth through sixth grade.

"The bottom line is whether the middle school staff is communicating with the high school staff to ensure a seamless transition for our students, and I believe those conversations are taking place," Gordon said.

"I believe there is a misguided perception that because we have two school districts that the administrators and teachers don't talk to each other."

He has heard claims that the elementary district's middle school students are not adequately prepared for high school because the curriculum is not aligned. Yet, he said, no one has provided any evidence to support it.

"I find it difficult to believe that a middle school could have one of the highest APIs in the area, but fail at adequately preparing our student academically for high school," Gordon said.

McCaffrey Middle School earned an 825 on its annual standardized test last year. The scores range from 500 to 1,000.

When Gordon's own son entered high school, Gordon said there were no academic gaps while making the transition.

Still, work to ease the transition for students moving from one grade level to another and one district to another is underway.

Math departments from both districts met in October and in January, and later this month will participate in a training on the math standards at Liberty Ranch High School.

Daisy Lee, the superintendent for the high school district, feels it is important that the nearby districts know what the high school district is regards to staff development to improve instruction. Three of the feeder districts sent their teachers and administrators to participate and learn side by side with the high school teachers and administrators.

In the coming months, middle school science teachers will also be visiting the high schools to observe life science instruction for general science and biology instruction to connect curriculum there with what is being taught at McCaffrey.

Del Toro-Anguiano said elementary administrators keep in contact with both high school principals and counselors to prepare students for high school and ensure their academic success.

"We want to make sure the way we present standards, the academic language we use and study habits we encourage with our students will provide a solid foundation for students when they enter high school," she said.

When it comes to collaboration, Gordon would like to see greater student exposure to the career technical education offerings at the high schools.

"While we have pathways with the band, choir and AVID programs, budget cuts and teacher credentialing hurdles limit our ability to offer an exploratory class that introduces students to the various career pathways at our high schools," he said, adding that this is not just a problem with McCaffrey, but most middle schools in California.

Last year, the elementary district applied for a state Department of Education grant to offer a so-called STEM — Science Technology Engineering Math — course at McCaffrey, but the application was not selected.

When Schauer served as the district's director of curriculum, she said the high school district was required by the state to improve academic progress due School Assistance and Intervention. At that time, all neighboring districts that transitioned students into the high school district participated in work together to better prepare students for more successful high school transition and academic performance success, she said.

But with new state standards and upcoming changes in testing, further attention to articulation between grade levels at schools and between districts is even more important, according to Schauer.

"Teachers and administrators being clear about what is taught prior to or following a grade level or course supports effective instruction efforts for students," she said. "Articulation for seamless instruction is always important from one grade level to the next, one school to the next and one district to another."

In the end, Gordon said if aligning the curriculum means using the same textbook publisher, then, as a parent, he doesn't necessarily feel it is important.

"Teachers are responsible for teaching the content standards set by the California Department of Education. What matters most is whether my children learned those concepts," he said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com. For more information about local education issues, read our Education Café blog.

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