Defining academic rigor in CPS

March 21, 2010 at 6:01 pm 18 comments

Could you guys help me out with something?  As part of the LSC for my neighborhood school. we’ll be helping define the SIPAAA, or school strategic plan for the next 2 years.  Parents have been talking a lot about wanting more “academic rigor” and I’ve been having a hard time verbalizing what that really means.

The more I thought about it, I think one of the fears of having a child in a big urban school system is that they’ll make it through 8th grade and attend some good high school where they can’t quite cut it.  I don’t want MY kid to be one of those who can’t punctuate, barely knows the basics of math, and doesn’t know that Paris isn’t a continent, you know?

As I’ve been thinking this weekend, my current theory is that academic rigor is a gradual process that builds up so kids have the following skills when they enter high school:

-Good reading, spelling, and punctuation skills
-The basics of geography, science, and technology (enough not to embarrass themselves if they showed up at a good suburb school)
-Can write in an organized way
-Have written reports that go fairly in-depth (rather than just regurgitating facts from the Internet.)
-Can engage in some level of critical discussion
-Know how to research and write a basic paper
-When posed with a school project can come up with creative and interesting idea on their own
-Some self-regulation skills at doing school work

I feel like the middle school grades should be working hard towards these goals, with the elementary goal being to get the kids ready for the middle school level of focus on these.  So sort of working backwards from 8th grade graduation.

I can’t tell if I’m totally missing the boat, if any of these are too advanced for 8th graders (I don’t know any and I can’t recall that far back!)

Please share your thoughts on what academic rigor means to you and how you feel it is implemented in a school.

Does it makes sense to public acknowledge kids who excel?  Or does it make others feel bad?

What can school do to aim high?  Is it more than just giving work beyond grade level?

Any input is greatly appreciated.

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18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. not so hopeful anymore  |  March 21, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I wonder if maybe talking to some high school teachers about the kinds of skills they’d like to see might help? Also, have you tried looking for the IL state standards?

    I think it helps if teachers can demonstrate how they are offering differentiation for students. I also think after school enrichment classes, either taught by volunteers or fee for service kind of thing might meet parents expectations.

    I thought all your expectations on the list above were totally reasonable. I would add that 8th graders need to offered Algebra I, like most suburban schools. And, all students by 8th grade need to be able to write a 5-8 paragraph essay (all three main types) in a near perfect manner quickly and easily. Since schools start (or should) start teaching essay writing in 2nd and 3rd grade now, by 8th, it needs to be second nature.

  • 2. 2cents  |  March 21, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Academinc rigor is like the term differentiation. It has become one of those over-used buzz words that means too many things to too many people to actually mean any one thing – you know what I mean? Here is what I would suggest – focus on getting the best curriculums in you school (Everyday Math, FOSS science, Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop, Words their Way, (wish I could put in the name of a reading curriculum here, but there are no great, even good, reading curriculums unfortunately)) and the rigor will follow naturally.

  • 3. 2 more cents  |  March 21, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Kids want feedback – kids need feedback. Give awards for A/B honor roll, attendance, uniform. and participation in activities (choir, band, sports, battle of the books, etc.) Keep it simple. Kids get it (usually it’s parents who don’t who get upset).

    The aim high question sounds like the academic rigor – can’t really say what it means – could mean too many things. You probably want to focus on test scores and value added saying you want growth in “green” meaning more than expected for a given year.

  • 4. CPS Teacher  |  March 22, 2010 at 6:23 am

    To me, academic rigor is is going beyond basic skills. We need to teach students to not just restate information, but interpret ideas. For math, applying concepts to everyday life. For writing, focusing on the ideas, not just the writing conventions (Although, these need to be stressed).

    For me, we need to stop stressing over teaching specific facts, and work on teaching kids strategies to learn. Our students will be expected to continually learn new skills – technology is constantly changing. They need to know how to learn.

  • 5. dave4118  |  March 22, 2010 at 7:37 am

    It does seem as though ‘academic rigor’ has become a catch-all phrase…but I think of it as meaning that a student has achieved a mastery of all the basic, most essential skills needed for that age. Having stated that…I think….well, what are those skill levels then for, an eigth grader? Bateman Elementary has a nice section of their website, it allows one to select a grade and see what they are trying to teach a kid at that grade level on all subjects. Here is the link: http://www.bateman.cps.k12.il.us/cps_standards.htm
    It seems a bit rudimentary…but it was handy for me–all I could recall from my grade school days was playing during recess.

  • 6. Jan  |  March 22, 2010 at 7:52 am

    I think you’re on the right path with your thinking, but keep in mind that kids need to learn both skills (which you’re focusing on) as well as knowledge. If they don’t have a good understanding of the basics of science facts, historical events, etc., then the good writing skills will be useless. So I’d echo the above poster in saying you should look at various state standards for learning that have been set forth. Illinois’ are considered fairly weak, and California’s pretty rigorous.

  • 7. Anita  |  March 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Here;s what I do: check in with friends who live on the North Shore to see what their kids are doing. Do your school’s expectations match their’s? If not, why not?

    For the most part, I’ve been happy with how my son’s school matches what my friends’ kids in Winnetka and Glencoe are doing. The biggest difference is that CPS kids spend far more time learning how to take standardized tests, and, of course, a lot of real intellectual stuff gets lost.

  • 8. not so hopeful anymore  |  March 22, 2010 at 11:27 am

    question for 2 cents:
    I know that the book Guided Reading by Fountas and Pinnell isn’t a curriculum and more of a philosophy regarding teaching reading. I wondered what you thought of that approach? That and the Four Blocks method? (I know that is an older one)
    I found that combined with whatever text books or curriculum my schools provided for me, that I had great success with using both the Four Blocks methodology and the Guided Reading methodology. Based on your comments, I can only assume you are also a teacher or maybe an administrator. I’d love to hear more about your opinions on those two approaches.
    BTW, I LOVE Lucy Calkins! My daughter’s school uses it and she is writing stories, poems, you name it and she’s only in K. I have been going in to her classroom to observe and help (observing so I can learn from her teachers….they are incredible) and will definitely bring that program into my classroom next year.

  • 9. RL Julia  |  March 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I am with most of the commenters here -academic rigor is sort of this catch all phrase -. I would parse it out to more concrete phrases and see what you get with that. You might also think through a few measurables and actual operations (and what are the penalities and/or actions for not meeting the standard – keeping in mind that what might seem like an action to you might feel like a penalty to a different audience).

    Looking at other school’s SIPAAA’s also might be helpful. They are dense documents.

    If I were to define academic rigor it would be somewhere along the lines of everyone being committed to the student’s education – the student, the teacher, the parents and the school’s administration.

    I would want students who were good writers, capable of articulating their thoughts and who had mastered some sort of standards in math, science and social studies etc… However, I am not sure how that addresses the kid who might not meet the standard. Its a fine line between excusing sub-par achievement and three hours of homework a night. Good luck!

  • 10. cpsobsessed  |  March 22, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks guys… these are some great things to think about.
    What troubles me with CPS is that even if there are good textbooks, etc purchased, the teachers need to hold the standards high. They may teacher through the book, but did everyone get it? Were kids drilled on the facts? And writing can be graded in such a nebulous way.
    In CPS there is great pressure to advance kids to the next grade. Schools look bad if they don’t. Yet somehow kids are getting into the high schools with negligible reading and math skills.
    I need to find some resources to talk to about it as some of you have suggested. Thanks again for all the input.

  • 11. Christine  |  March 23, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I think academic rigor should include how to retain the information long term and apply it in our everyday lives. I think it also has to include how to retain it over the summer or build upon it over the summer and holidays. I don’t think the children are challenged enough during the day. Sure they wind up with obscene amounts of homework. but are they getting that homework as a reinforcement to what was learned or are they getting it as a result of something crammed into curriculum as need to know but but didn’t have time to get do during classroom.

    It should also include a curriculum that is challenging for each child. Some children are blessed with teacher that recognize their particular gift for a particular subject and can present individualized curriculum. All kids should have the opportunity to be challenged academically and not have to follow the status quo of.

  • 12. cpsmom  |  March 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Another thought would be to talk to the schools known for rigor. As I passed by my daughter’s K class today, on the big easel, I saw that they had written:
    Topic…Europe (they are studying the continents)
    Details… (I couldn’t see that part)

    They introduce these things in K, so that when they have to write paragraphs later on, they have heard and seen concepts like “topic” , “main idea” and “details”.

    So, maybe talking to teachers at some of the magnets known for their challenging curriculum might also be helpful.

  • 13. 2 more cents  |  March 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Your open lack of trust of teachers at this school, and really all schools, is a shock. How can you, with appearantly 0 years of experience in education (and yes there is a difference between being a parent and being a teacher), claim be wary of research based, proven curriculums and the teachers’ ability to implement them in a way that is meaningful to children? The good thing about a curriculum, rather than the radom list of things you feel kids should know, is that curriculums spiral and the same language and learning routines are repeated so that children can focus on the content. And yes, CPS teachers are capable of following them and meeting the needs of children through them.

  • 14. 2 more cents  |  March 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    To not so hopeful
    I think both those reading methodologies are useful. I do think it is a challenge to get consistent implementation. Some of the methods you mentioned are considered strategy instruction (guided reading), the four blocks method has elements of content instruction. The question with strategy instruction and content instruction is the scope and sequence from year to year. I just read an artice In a recent RRQ by Beck and McKeown that looked and the effect of strategy instruction (specific procedures to guide access to text during reading) vs content instruction (open meaning based questions) and basal instruction was the control. The content instruction students slightly outperformed the other two groups but the control (basal instruction) slightly outperformed strategy instruction on some measures. So your instincts to use both curriculums makes sense according to the research. I think what we are missing in the reading world is a comprehensive curriculum that impelements both methods in the right way to assure students get the massive amount of content that in part of “reading comprehension.” They got it right with Everyday Math. I wish some group of researchers would do the same thing with reading (is anybody at the U of C reading this).

  • 15. CPS Teacher 2  |  March 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Rigor also includes critical thinking and problem solving skills. Children are quickly loosing their ability to think outside the box and work in groups. They are getting very good at trying to go back to the text to find the answer because that is what is taught to take the standardized tests. They aren’t thinking anymore, using their imaginations, or inventing ways to solve to problems. They go to their teacher for the answer, and too often the teacher will give it to them.

  • 16. Mayfair Dad  |  March 26, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Here is a metric you I hope you find useful:

    ISAT Scores

    90%> of all students meet and exceed state standards at grade level

    40%> of all students exceed state standards at grade level

    Not the end-all-be-all measurement for academic achievement, but a meaningful snapshot if your school is among the better schools in the city. All gifted programs hit this mark – the best neighborhood schools do, too.

  • 17. Adele  |  March 29, 2010 at 8:18 am

    As city residents, we have the right to ask about which curriculums / textbooks CPS has researched and recommends. It is all for the children, not a sign of disrespect toward our educators. (Also — if I were you — I would ask other parents for help in this research effort and divide the task into 3 parts: primary grades; 4th and 5th grades; and then middle school years.)

    I have had many pleasant conversations and learned about many programs, for example —

    CPS’ GEAP has an in-house gifted program for students in neighborhood schools who test in the top 10%. It has been in place for many years. Contact Trudy Wallace, GEAP.

    CPS’ Chicago Math and Science Initiative (CMSI) folks will work with your school to offer Algebra to middle school students.
    The Algebra class must be taught by a high school certified math teacher. Contact Jesse Reyes, CMSI

    Also I would visit the web sites of better performing schools like — Hawthorne Elementary, Edison, Bell, Keller and Lenart.

    Here are my impressions —

    For Reading and Writing
    Ask Lenart to tell you the titles they read throughout the grades. They regularly step away from the text book tackle many genres. They read Charlotte’s Web in first grade.

    For Science and Technology
    Take a look at Edison’s science program and also how well they use technology.

    For Algebra and Social Science and Foreign Languages
    Visit the web sites of the Whitney Young Academic Center. You’ll see wonderfully detailed curriculum plans for 7th and 8th graders. Note Ms. Gandhi’s curriculum and pacing for honors Algebra for 7th graders.

    When you visit Hawthorne Elementary’s PTA web site, you’ll note that they raised funds for teachers to map the curriculum to avoid useless repetition year after year — an excellent idea!

    With a buddy, visit as many schools as you can. Often the Deans of the Schools of Education at Northwestern, National Louis, and Roosevelt are valuable resources. The Consortium on Schools at the U. of Chicago is an excellent source. Illinois Association for Gifted Children is helpful.

    Also you could subscribe to Education Week online newsletter. It can be useful to know the latest research, for example, on why reading in the middle school grades isn’t advancing as it has in the earlier grades. Their conclusion: schools are doing a better job of teaching kids how to read in the early years. The report speculates that schools may not be assigning a wide range of genres to be read and analyzed in the middle school years. Ed Week is also covering Obama’s effort toward imposing a national curriculum.

    Thanks

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