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Curriculum

District Makes Far-Reaching Change to Open Resources

By Sean Cavanagh — June 10, 2015 3 min read
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The Grandview, Wash., school system‘s move to open educational resources was big and bold.

Unlike districts that have replaced commercial products in a relatively limited way, the rural school system has jettisoned its entire pre-K-10 math and English/language arts curricula, in phases, in favor of free, openly licensed resources.

It’s been a far-reaching and taxing enterprise for the 3,600-student district, located in the farming region of south-central Washington.

As is the case in the Bethel, Wash., district, officials in Grandview decided to pursue open resources when they become concerned that their existing math and English/language arts resources were not adequately preparing students for the Common Core State Standards and tests.

But unlike officials in Bethel, which has tapped a single source, EngageNY, for open materials in grade K-5 math, Grandview has collected and organized open materials from a variety of sources.

Instructional coaches, outside consultants, and teachers researched and collected resources and wrote units of study. They made judgments about the best sequence for lessons, how closely materials aligned with the common core, and how useful they would be for teachers and students.

It was a complicated process, one many teachers approached warily, Superintendent Kevin Chase recalled.

As the review and selection of materials dragged out, “it was a real struggle to get [materials] written and in teachers’ hands,” he said. They would ask, “ ‘What are we teaching? We don’t have the unit yet,’ ” he noted.

Tough Choices

Figuring out how open materials would be integrated and phased in across grades was especially difficult, said Norma Morales, a district elementary school instructional coach. Nor was it easy predicting how students would respond to units that looked good on paper, but hadn’t been tested in Grandview classrooms.

Sometimes it was immediately obvious that an open lesson just “didn’t work,” Ms. Morales said. “But we’ve grown. ... It takes time. There’s no cookie-cutter framework that says, ‘This is how you do it.’ ”

Now, units and lessons are housed on a shared district computer drive. Printed materials—such as for reading in language arts classes and manipulatives in math—continue to play a critical role, Mr. Chase said.

Previously, when the district bought commercial products, companies producing it might offer educators a half-day of training on the new content, “and that was all the support the teacher ever got,” he said. Now, Grandview teachers and coaches count on each other throughout the school year to explain lessons, and overcome problems, Mr. Chase added.

Wilma Kozai, Grandview’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, sees a new depth to teachers’ knowledge. In math, for instance, “They have the concept to fall back on, not just the procedure,” she said.

It’s too early to know what impact the open curricula will have on assessment results. Washington state common-core tests given this spring will serve as a baseline for judging future performance. Students have shown academic progress this school year on internal tests, but Ms. Kozai said district officials want better results.

The financial implications of the change also remain unclear. Grandview has a total yearly budget of about $35 million. It previously spent about $120,000 annually buying off-the-shelf commercial materials. It’s now spending more, between $130,000 and $150,000 annually, mostly on building and refining units, Mr. Chase said. But once the use of open resources in Grandview is more settled, he expects yearly costs to fall to about $50,000—a major savings, over time. And the district will avoid costly new materials adoptions, which have occurred every five years or so, he said.

“Although it’s challenging, and not an easy path to take, it’s worth every minute,” said elementary instructional coach Melissa Candanoza, who helped select units.

The new, open resources are “living documents,” she said, that can be “revised and made better every year.”

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