Tough Audit Prompts Ga. Chief To Seek Curriculum Rewrite

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A recent audit that found Georgia's K-12 curriculum to be rife with gaps and lacking in rigor has prompted officials to begin a wholesale revision of the state's 5-year-old academic guidelines.

In response to the audit by Bloomington, Ind.-based Phi Delta Kappa International, state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko wants to tap some of the state's top teachers, and nationally recognized curriculum experts, to help with the effort.

"We owe it to our students and teachers to make sure the revision of the [Quality Core Curriculum] is a thoughtful and deliberate process," Ms. Schrenko said as she presented her recommendations at a March 14 state board of education meeting.

But Cathy Henson, the chairwoman of the state board, said she's concerned that the department lacks "the necessary expertise or resources to make our curriculum more rigorous."

Ms. Schrenko was given until next month to present her proposal in greater detail.

The superintendent, a Republican, has also made it clear that she was not pleased with the curriculum audit. She alleges that commissioning it was a politically motivated move on the part of the board, which is appointed by Gov. Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat. Ms. Schrenko is vying for the GOP nomination to face Mr. Barnes in November.

She also thinks the audit was poorly timed, considering that when the board called for it in 2000, the state was already in the midst of implementing a new statewide testing and accountability plan. The new system will determine which schools receive monetary awards, which schools require assistance, and, beginning in 2004, whether students advance in key grades. "How can we say to teachers, 'We're going to grade you on a curriculum that you don't have yet?'" the schools chief said last week during an interview.

A Bulky Curriculum

While Georgia's curriculum has been studied before, the recent audit offers the most criticism. In September, the 13-member audit team of educators and education professors, most from outside the state, visited 473 classrooms in 53 Georgia schools. Their 192-page report, which focuses on mathematics, science, English/language arts, and social studies, concluded that Georgia's standards are not well-aligned with different versions of model national standards. The standards include too few expectations in some grades, added the audit, which was performed by Phi Delta Kappa's Curriculum Management Audit Center. The audit represents the first time the center, which typically performs district-level audits, has done such a statewide review.

The audit team found that much of the curriculum focuses on acquiring knowledge and learning to apply that knowledge, but that students are not challenged to analyze, synthesize, or evaluate.

Through interviews with school personnel, the auditors also found that teachers and administrators are well aware that the QCC is the "official" curriculum, but too many of them view it as "just another set of expectations" along with standardized tests and other state programs.

"From a design perspective, the QCC is too bulky and awkward for easy use in Georgia's classrooms," the report says.

During the 1997 revision, the education department launched Georgia Learning Connections, an Internet resource site for teachers.

But the audit found "few teachers actively burrowed in the rich and deep compilation of material of the QCC found on the Georgia Learning Connections Web site to get material, activities, and help with their curriculum activity."

One teacher told auditors: "The QCCs are not used much. Most instruction is textbook-driven along with paper-pencil tasks."

Ms. Schrenko said she agrees with many of the findings in the audit, particularly those that say the curriculum should be more rigorous. But she also noted that previous, more positive evaluations of the state's curriculum should be considered when priorities for the revision are set.

A 'Living Document'

Education leaders and observers say that when the state updated its curriculum in 1997, it was never meant to be a final product. At the time, officials called it a "living document" and planned to revise the standards on the same schedule that they used to adopt new textbooks.

"We knew at that time that this was going to need to be constantly upgraded," said Tom Upchurch, who was involved in the revision and now serves on the state board of education. "But there were other priorities."

But Ms. Schrenko said ongoing work has taken place. The board updated math standards in 2000, for example. The department then revised the science and health standards. The board's request for the audit, however, put any more changes on hold.

Vol. 21, Issue 28, Page 20

Published in Print: March 27, 2002, as Tough Audit Prompts Ga. Chief To Seek Curriculum Rewrite
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