Many schools do not have a designated curriculum director until they reach an enrollment of 500+ students and are able to support this “extra” position. When that time comes, creating a new position can mean that the pioneer must help determine what the job description will be. In my case, the elementary principal was giddy in his eagerness to sign over all rights to ordering testing materials. Thus, my job includes managing all school assessments, and I quickly discovered why the principal was glad to delegate this. But no matter what is added along the way, a curriculum director is first and foremost responsible for…the curriculum!
During graduate school I discovered that when you are in over your head, you need to start by getting organized. Being organized gives you confidence and makes it seem like you know what you are doing. For the curriculum director, the first step is creating a curriculum review cycle. This involves developing a rotating schedule that includes all the major domains. Our head of school wisely advised that ELA be given two years; we began with that content area. Domains that are smaller, such as world languages and fine arts, may be combined. With this cycle, it takes seven years to get through all subjects, which coincidentally follows the Old Testament pattern that seven equals “fullness” or “completeness.”
This is how our chart is organized.
If you are creating a review cycle for the first time, make sure you begin with the area that most urgently needs attention. This may be determined by something as simple as which textbooks are outdated or by a more significant issue such as low test scores. In any case, be intentional. A review cycle loses meaning if you arbitrarily decide to ignore the order.
Establishing a schedule is the easy part. Knowing how to review curriculum can be more elusive. The internet and resources from publishing companies can help. You can use a search engine to locate lists of steps to follow. Some textbook publishers have a form for reviewing curriculum. Just be aware that their form may be written to favor their products. After gathering some steps to follow and questions to ask, form a committee. It is ideal to get volunteers instead of drafting people who may be disgruntled by the need to attend extra meetings. Send an email to experienced teachers in the subject area who represent a cross section of grade levels. Many teachers will be glad for the opportunity to offer such vital input.
Make a list of your needs and priorities pertaining to the subject area. Do you need updated materials? Are you seeking to improve test scores? Is there a lack of materials for differentiating instruction? Next, obtain sample textbooks from 3-4 publishing companies. You may choose from recommendations teachers make. Researching on Curriculum Trak to see what other schools are using is also a good source. A word of caution: Be willing to look beyond the publishers whose curriculum you currently have. There is no purpose in reviewing a content area if you are just going to buy the latest edition of your current book anyway. Another word of caution: You may not want to purchase every grade level from the same publisher. One publisher may have a strong option for elementary while another would be a good fit for your upper school.
Distribute the exam copies to your committee members and give them a guide sheet for reviewing the books. Questions may include: How well does the book align with our standards? Is the book user-friendly and appealing? What resources are included for differentiating instruction? If it is a Christian publisher, how effective and thorough is the biblical worldview integration? Do the textbooks or supplemental materials espouse philosophies that are contrary to our school’s mission and statement of faith?
Effective curriculum review requires many committee meetings. A Zoom presentation from each of the publishers will allow team members to ask questions and better understand the philosophy and structure of the curriculum. During the meetings, the curriculum director should take notes from the comments that others make and ask each person to identify his/her preferences. This will also help identify the strengths and weaknesses of each option in preparation for a final decision.
This past year our school undertook the biggest curriculum review we have done since developing our official cycle. Prior to the creation of the curriculum position, decisions were made based on which books were in the poorest condition, or a principal purchased something new at their own discretion. Sending the email in April that led to a massive purchase of math curriculum was both scary and exhilarating. We primarily chose one publisher but will use another for grades 10-12. The books arrived on a pallet and are at this writing being processed and distributed to classrooms. I am still a bit anxious. It was a lot of money, and the learning curve will be significant for our teachers. (We did pay for the publisher’s PDs on how to use the curriculum.) Will our students flourish in math? Will test scores improve? Will the new program find favor with the teaching staff? I know we followed best practices, sought input, and conducted significant research during the review process. It’s time to start thinking about social studies next.