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  • Our Approach to PARCC Readiness
    According to the Common Core Fact Sheet provided by the NJDOE, “CCSS focus heavily on critical thinking skills and students’ ability to read, write, speak and solve “real world” problems independently.” As we move towards PARCC assessments and the evaluation of each district’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards, we must consider how to effectively prepare out students for this new era of standardized testing. Should we focus on computer literacy, test prep strategies, or hope for the postponement of PARCC?

    Our district’s philosophy regarding curriculum development and instruction is that all students can learn.  We are therefore charged with the mission to develop curriculum that will meet the strict guidelines of Common Core yet also provide the structure and support for our “at-risk” students. After reading Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put All Students on the Road to Academic Success by Suzy Pepper Rollins, I was inspired to develop a new method for our former HSPA prep classes at our high school.  Instead of focusing on remediation, perhaps we should be preparing our students for their current content classes by building on their background knowledge. According to Rollings, acceleration strategically prepares students for success in the present – this week, on this content.  With the assistance of content area supervisors and high school administration, our PARCC readiness classes were born. 
    Our first step was to encourage a core group of high school teacher leaders to assist with the development of PARCC Readiness classes for grades 9-11. Through the use of our Instructional Management Team (IMT), teacher leaders from all content areas met twice a month to discuss the logistics of the implementation of these new courses.  Decisions needed to be made regarding how to schedule students for these classes, while still meeting graduation requirements. What do we do with students that may need assistance in both language arts and math and who should teach these classes? Through much discussion the following criteria were developed:  students would be enrolled in the PARCC readiness classes based on their below proficiency levels on NJASK 8 and report card grades. Students needing assistance in one area would be scheduled to meet daily. Students needing assistance in both areas would follow an A/B schedule and meet on a rotating basis. These courses would be in addition to their regular language arts and mathematics classes.  By the end of the 2013-2014 school year, we had a firm plan in place.
    Our second step was to provide professional development on project-based learning to teachers writing the curriculum for these classes. Over 20 teachers in all content areas attended 5 days of professional development on the Innovative Design for Education (IDE) methodology to shift the paradigm of teacher-centered instruction to student-centered classrooms where learners develop the capacity to set goals, monitor progress and reflect on learning to become college and career ready. Following this training, 12 teachers in language arts and mathematics were provided an additional 30 hours to collaboratively develop the curriculum for our PARCC Readiness classes that would begin in September, 2014. 
    Although we are only a few weeks into the school year, I have been very impressed with the classrooms I have visited.  English classes are focusing on everything from timed typing warm-ups to research simulation tasks focusing on LeBron James that utilize multiple sources.  In the mathematics classes, students in algebra are managing restaurants using algebraic equations, while geometry classes are focusing on congruence and getting additional support through help desks and peer tutoring.  PARCC teachers and content teachers share lesson plans to ensure that topics covered reflect content that will be covered in the near future in the regular education classes. Teacher feedback has been extremely positive. Students find the classes enjoyable due to the extensive technological aspect as well as obtaining additional assistance in the areas of language arts and mathematics. One teacher stated that students appreciate the fact that they can move at their own pace and stay on a topic until they “get it.”
    We are approaching a new area in standardized testing that is virtually unknown at this time. We have not seen these assessments, nor do we know how our students will respond to these new challenges. However, our focus continues to be that all students can and will learn in our district. We will continue to focus on developing standards-aligned curriculum and incorporating research-based educational strategies.  Regardless of the assessments used, maintaining high expectations, strong leadership and effective teaching are essential to prepare students to be college and career ready.