Iowa Core Curriculum

By: Naomi Gragg

The Six Outcomes of the Iowa Core Curriculum

  1. Leadership
  2. Community
  3. Continuous School Improvement
  4. Alignment
  5. Professional Development
  6. Instruction & Assessment


These six outcomes will guide development of the district's improvement goals.

Iowa Core Curriculum: Alignment

What do educators need to know about alignment?

It is important to understand some basic alignment terminology that will help to clarify just what alignment of the Iowa Core Curriculum means.

Curriculum

Curriculum can be divided into three categories: intended, enacted, and assessed curricula.

  • Intended Curriculum: the content target for the enacted curriculum, often captured in content standards or other similar documents
  • Enacted Curriculum: the content actually delivered during instruction in the classroom and other learning settings
  • Assessed Curriculum: the content that is assessed to determine achievement

Alignment

The extent to which and how well all policy elements (e.g., content, instruction, and assessment) work together to guide instruction and, ultimately, student learning.

Directionality

The direction in which alignment is examined can be broken down into two approaches:

  • Horizontal Alignment: degree of match across two components (e.g., instructional content with the Iowa Core Curriculum) within a single level (e.g., same grade comparisons)
  • Vertical Alignment: degree of match within one component (e.g., district benchmark assessments) across multiple levels (e.g., across grade levels)

Dimensions

There are a wide variety of approaches to examining alignment (e.g., Surveys of Enacted Curriculum, Webb methods), each of which examine different aspects of alignment relationships. In general, these different aspects can be summarized along three dimensions, regardless of the methods used.

  • Topical/Conceptual Knowledge: Topics and information that students are supposed to learn.
  • Cognitive Complexity/Demand: What students are expected to do with the topical/conceptual knowledge (e.g., Bloom's Taxonomy)
  • Emphasis: The extent to which topical/conceptual knowledge with accompanying complexity/demand are addressed by the intended, enacted, or assessed curriculum.

Level of Analysis

When engaging in an examination of alignment in any direction, along any dimension(s), the specificity with which alignment is considered can vary along a continuum. This is referred to be Porter (2002) as "grain size."

  • Coarse-Grained: Tends to be global or general in nature; "it's in there somewhere."
  • Fine-Grained: Specific, targeted, one-to-one correspondence (Niebling et al., 2008).

Iowa Core Curriculum: Implementation

What is full implementation of the Iowa Core Curriculum??

Each school district and accredited non-public school in Iowa is required to develop a written plan to describe their implementation of the Iowa Core Curriculum. Provided is a process to facilitate planning and a protocol for meeting the requirements to develop an implementation. However, it is much more than one moment in time when the paper work is completed. It is an ongoing process of striving to meet the needs of ALL students by providing them with authentic learning opportunities.
According to the Department of Education, the definition of full implementation is accomplished when the school or district is able to provide evidence that an ongoing process is in place to ensure that each and every student is learning the Essential Concepts and Skill Sets of the Iowa Core Curriculum. A school that has fully implemented the Iowa Core Curriculum is engaged in an ongoing process of data gathering and analysis, decision making, identifying actions, and assessing impact around alignment and professional development focused on content, instruction, and assessment The school is fully engaged in a continuous improvement process that specifically targets improved student learning and performance.

What else should you know about the Iowa Core Curriculum?

Legislated Deadlines:


District and accredited nonpublic schools must:


1. Respond to all outcomes and targets of the implementation plan

  • Due July 1, 2010, for grades 9-12
  • Due July 1, 2012, for grades K-8

2. Complete an initial alignment of local content with Iowa Core Curriculum Essential Concepts and Skill Sets in Literacy, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and 21st Century Skills (Civic Literacy, Health Literacy, Financial Literacy, Technology Literacy, and Employability Skills) and steps to address any gaps

  • Due July 1, 2012, for grades 9-12
  • Due 2013-2014, for grades K-8

3. Complete initial analysis of alignment of content, instruction, assessment, and steps to address any gaps

  • Due July 1, 2012, for 9-12
  • Due July 1, 2014, for K-8

Leadership Teams are encouraged to engage teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in an ongoing process that begins with preliminary dialogue, analysis of data, coordination of resources, and initial examination of content, instruction, and assessment. This initial work leads to continued in-depth dialogue about alignment of content, instruction and assessment, improved teaching practices, improved systems of support, and increased student engagement.

Technical Assistance to Support Districts and Schools

The Iowa Department of Education, along with Iowa AEAs are collaborating to provide an integrated system of supports for local districts and schools as they engage in a continuous planning process for implementing the Iowa Core Curriculum.


Grant Wood's AEA Network work team will provide an Iowa Core Leadership Series for the 21st Century. Leadership Teams will receive the latest information and documents regarding ICC implementation In these sessions, teams will engage in activities designed to deepen their understanding of the work ahead. The purpose of these sessions will be to allow teams or individuals to receive personal assistance form AEA 10 team members, as well as time to network with those form other schools doing the same work.

Iowa Core Curriculum: Characteristics of Effective Instruction

One of the six Iowa Core Curriculum Outcomes (#6) is: Educators implement effective instructional practices to ensure high levels of learning for each and every student. The thinking behind this outcome is that...


"If content is challenging and relevant, and teachers routinely deliver instruction that demonstrates the characteristics of effective instruction, then student learning and performance will increase."


So...what are these Characteristics of Effective Instruction? To remember them, use the acronym START.

Student-Centered Classrooms:

In Student-centered Classrooms, students construct their own knowledge based on experiential, holistic, authentic, and challenging experiences. Teachers take the skills, knowledge, and concepts that the curriculum requires and connect them to students' experiences, interests, and environment. They provide opportunities for students to communicate their understandings, reasoning, solutions, and connections. Teachers encourage students to reflect on their own thinking and learning. Curriculum and assessments are centered on meaningful performances in real world contexts. Classroom learning experiences are intentionally designed for collaboration.

Teaching for Understanding:

Teaching for understanding is leading students to engage in a variety of thought-provoking activities such as explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, making analogies, and representing the topic in new ways. Teachers assist students in making connections between prior knowledge and new knowledge to develop understanding of a concept. Teacher who teach for understanding 1) make learning a long-term, thinking-centered process, 2) provide for rich ongoing assessment, 3) support learning with powerful representations, 4) pay heed to developmental factors, 5) induct students into the discipline, and 6) teach for transfer.

Assessment FOR Learning (Formative Assessment):

Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students as part of instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students' achievement of core content. As assessment FOR learning, formative assessment practices provide students with clear learning targets, examples and models of strong and weak work, regular descriptive feedback, and the ability to self-assess, track learning, and set goals.

Rigorous and Relevant Curriculum:

A rigorous curriculum is one that is complex, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging. A relevant curriculum requires students to use knowledge to solve complex, real-world problems, and to create works to use in real world situations. Rigor and relevance is represented by challenging content that is significant to a topic, includes authentic work and the application of knowledge and skills to complex problems. It also entails the use of prior knowledge, the development of in-depth understanding, and the ability to develop and express ideas and findings through elaborated communication. The content is not just interesting to students, but involves particular intellectual challenges. When students successfully meet these challenges, their new learning will have meaning and value in contexts outside of the classroom.

Teaching for Learner Differences:

Teaching for Learner Differences requires teachers to understand essential concepts and skills, to identify the contributing factors affecting the desired outcome, and to utilize a variety of methods to teach and reinforce the desired concepts and skills. It includes providing access to the general education curriculum for all students. Teaching for Learner Differences can best be accomplished by engaging in a process which has teachers using student and instructional assessment data to make sound instructional decisions to meet the needs of individual students.

Iowa Core Curriculum: 21st Century Skills

Each Iowa student must graduate with the 21st century skills necessary for a productive and satisfying life in a global knowledge-based environment. Descriptions of the new global reality are plentiful, and the need for new, 21st century skills in an increasingly complex environment is well documented. In one form or another, authors cute (1) the globalization of economics; (2) the explosion of scientific and technological knowledge; (3) the increasingly international dimensions of the issues we face, (i.e. global warming and pandemic diseases); and (4) changing demographics as the major trends that have resulted in a future world much different from the one that many of us faced when we graduated from high school. (Friedman, 2005 and Stewart, 2007) The trends are very clear that each Iowa student will need essential 21st century skills to lead satisfying lives in this current reality.
As Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills stated, the 21st century skills set "is the ticket to economic upward mobility in the new economy." (Gewertz, 2007) Our world economy has evolved from an industrial era to an information era and is now on the way to the creativity era, while at the same time our schools are stagnant in the industrial model. The 21st century skills are key elements in supporting our youth not only in surviving, but excelling in the new global environment.
"It is a world in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the keys to the good life, in which high levels of education - a very different kind of education than most of us have had - are going to be the only security there is." (New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 2006)


"We believe schools must move beyond a focus on basic competency in core subjects, to promoting understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes into core subjects." 21st century skillls bridge the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of students form the core academic areas to real life applications. (The Framework for 21st Century Learning, 2007)


Robert Sternberg described the necessity for 21st century skills when he stated, "...when we teach only for facts, rather than for now to go beyond facts, we teach students how to get out of date..." (2008)

Description,s of what constitute essential 21st century skills are plentiful. In the 2007 legislative session, the Iowa Legislature established the Iowa 21st century skills framework as:



Health Literacy

Employability Skills

Financial Literacy

Technology Literacy

Civic Literacy


Within this 21st century skill framework we must identify common strands, or learning skills that will allow students to thrive in the world of work and to be productive citizens. Tony Wagner, Harvard Graduate School of Education, labels these "survival skills" as (1) critical thinking and problem solving (2) collaboration and leadership (3) agility and adaptability (4) initiative and entrepreneurialism (5) effective oral and written communication (6) accessing and analyzing information and (7) curiosity and imagination. Wagner proposes that schools use academic content to teach these skills at every grade level, and be held accountable for a new standard of rigor. (2008)

The reality of building capacity for the 21st century is that we do not know what the work of the future will be like or how technology will influence health, or the balance of financial issues. The challenge is to prepare students to think critically, to engage in mental activity or habits of mind that "...use facts to plan, order, and work toward an end; seek meaning or explanations; involve self-reflection; and use reason to question claims and make judgments..."(Noddings, 2008). It may be that our task is not only to prepare students to 'fit into the future' but to shape it."...If the complex questions of the future are to be determined...by human beings...making one choice rather than another, we should educate youth - all of them - to join in the conversatoin about those choices and to influence that future..." (Meier, 2008)

Student-Centered Classrooms

In Student-centered Classrooms, students construct their own knowledge based on experiential, holistic, authentic, and challenging experiences. Teachers take the skills, knowledge, and concepts that they curriculum requires and connect them to what students want to learn. Teachers encourage students to reflect on their own thinking and learning. Curriculum and assessments are centered on meaningful performances in real-world contexts. Classroom learning experiences are intentionally designed for collaboration.

What it is:

  • Building learning opportunities on an students' natural curiosity
  • Building learning opportunities on students' current knowledge
  • Drawing on a deep understanding of how students learn and students' developmental characteristics to design learning experiences
  • Providing students the opportunity to actively engage in learning skills, knowledge, and concepts
  • Creating a climate of collaborative learning between the teacher and the learner
  • Including students in decision-making processes of the classroom
  • Teacher facilitating a variety of learning opportunities - experiential, holistic, authentic, and challenging
  • Students collaborating and sharing resources
  • Curriculum focusing on essential concepts and skill sets
  • Providing opportunities for student to reflect on what and how they learn.

What it is NOT:

  • Factory-model education with one-size fits all instructional approaches
  • Didactic teaching
  • Sitting, listening, and note-taking
  • Student-controlled classrooms
  • Ignoring the standards and benchmarks

Teaching for Learner Differences

Teaching for Learner Difference:

Teaching for Learner Differences requires teachers to understand core concepts and essential skills, to identify the contributing factors affecting the desired outcome, and to utilize a variety of methods to teach and reinforce the desired concepts and skills. It includes providing access to the general education curriculum for all students. Teaching for Learner Differences can best be accomplished by engaging in a process which has teachers using student and instructional assessment data to make sound instructional decisions to meet the needs of individual students.

What it is:

  • Teaching for Learner Differences through IDM is about meeting the needs of all students while maintaining high expectations for all students. It aligns with and supports all services and programs within a school.
  • Teaching for Learner Differences is focused on appropriate instruction and focused on each and every student.
  • It is data driven, a collaborative effort, proactive, a seamless continuum of instructional delivery, fluid, interactive, and responsive.

What it is NOT:

  • Teaching for Learner Differences is not about lowering expectations or changing the Iowa Core Curriculum essential concepts and skills.
  • It is not a sorting and tracking system that keeps students performing at low levels.
  • It is not about assessing students and disregarding the data.
  • It is not reactive, nor done in isolation.

Iowa Core Curriculum: Essential Concepts and Skill Sets

One of the six Iowa Core Curriculum Outcomes (#5) is: Educators engage in professional development focused on implementing Characteristics of Effective Instruction and demonstrate understanding of Essential Concepts and Skills Sets. The thinking behind this outcome is that...


"If professional development is based on the Iowa Professional Development Model, and is focused on improved content, instruction and assessment practices, and if educators fully implement what they learn, then student learning and performance will increase."

So...what is meant by the term "Essential Concepts and Skills Sets?"

The Iowa Core Curriculum provides local school districts a guide to delivering instructional content that is challenging and meaningful to students. The curriculum identifies the essential concepts and skill sets for literacy, mathematics, science and social studies, as well as 21st century learning skills (civic literacy, financial literacy, technology literacy, health literacy, and employability). Essential concepts and skill sets have been identified for all levels, K-12. The Iowa Department of Education and its partners have and will continue to provide guidance and assistance to Iowa's school districts and teachers in incorporating these skills and concepts into their local curriculum. THe overarching goal of the Iowa Core Curriculum is to ensure that each and every Iowa student is engaged in a rigorous and relevant curriculum.
Educators can visit the Iowa Core Curriculum website, http://www.corecurriculum.iowa.gov, to view the essential concepts and skill sets for their specific content area. The Iowa Core Curriculum requires the mastery of the essential concepts and skill sets within each discipline.