Guidelines for reopening school in the wake of COVID-19. | AASA Central
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Action Steps for Guiding Principle 8

from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

Transform Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

The Task Force was unanimous in their assertion that the COVID-19-related crisis has allowed us to examine how we design our curriculum, teach our students, and monitor their progress. Their recommendations reinforced the adage that in crisis there is opportunity. Their recommendations included the following:

  • Written curriculum must continue to address required standards, but it should reflect what we have learned during the crisis: the need for personalization, differentiation and social-emotional learning to become key components of our curriculum design process.
  • The teaching-learning process must be personalized and differentiated to accommodate the range of readiness levels, interests and learner profiles evident in the students we are serving.
  • Assessment cannot return to traditional practices. It must become more balanced and emphasize coaching-based formative assessment vs. teaching to the test.
  • Amid the COVID-19 crisis, we have all seen the inadequacy of a test-driven organizational culture. We must take a more holistic approach to assessment.
  • We need to emphasize performance assessment and project-based learning while providing immediate and sustained feedback and coaching, monitoring and assessing student progress, including learners’ acquisition and deepening of such SEL-related skills as self-regulation, interpersonal communication and citizenship.

Redefining Curriculum as a System for Promoting and Monitoring Learning

As schools plan to reopen in the coming months, the next academic year can be a vehicle for transforming education as we know it. Curriculum leaders Fenwick English and Allan Glatthorn consistently emphasized that curriculum is not just written guides and lessons. Instead, it is a system for promoting and monitoring student learning. The COVID-19 crisis has accented the interdependence of the various levels of a curriculum system articulated by English and Glatthorn:

The Ideal/Organic Curriculum: The documents and media used to express a district’s values and guiding principles, including vision and mission statements. Does the district’s ideal curriculum reflect a commitment to the health, well-being, social-emotional growth and academic achievement of all learners accented so powerfully during this national crisis?

The Taught Curriculum: What actually occurs in classrooms as teachers implement the written curriculum with learners. Are classrooms inviting and engaging communities of learning? Do students see the purpose and meaning of the content and skills they are studying? Are classrooms personalized and differentiated to address students’ varying readiness levels, interests and learner profiles?

The Supported Curriculum: The range of resources, professional learning and support systems necessary to ensure that all instructors are effective with their students. Do all students have equitable access to needed resources, including internet access and hardware needed for distance learning? Does professional learning contribute value to teachers’ expertise and competency to reinforce students’ access to a rigorous and engaging curriculum and address the individual needs of all learners?

The Hidden Curriculum: The unconscious or unexpressed issues that arise when there is a lack of alignment between or among various levels of the district’s curriculum. Do staff or students experience a sense of mixed signals or contradiction between what is articulated and what is practiced? Are there areas in your curriculum system that show issues related to misalignment?

The Written Curriculum: The written guides and supporting lessons used to inform the teaching and learning process within a district. Are curriculum guides written to articulate a clear sequence of standards implementation while advocating for teaching-learning activities aligned with the needs of the Whole Child (i.e., health and physical development, social-emotional development and academic achievement)? Is the written curriculum clear, coherent, aligned and culturally responsive?

The Assessed Curriculum: Those components of the curriculum identified for purposes of progress monitoring, assessment and evaluation. Does assessment focus on key power standards for which all students are expected to achieve proficiency? Is assessment balanced in its approach, emphasizing a combination of diagnostic, formative and assessment feedback? Does assessment support the learning process rather than detracting from it (i.e., emphasizing student feedback and coaching rather than mechanical teaching-to-the-test)?

The Learned Curriculum: The knowledge, skills and habits of mind acquired by students within the context of their formal school experience. Do all students develop proficiency of identified curriculum power standards? Do the various levels of the curriculum support student growth and development in becoming a life-long learner? Can every student see himself or herself in the curriculum they are studying?

Suggested Action Steps for Transforming Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment During Reopening and the Coming Academic Year

What are the implications of reopening and the upcoming academic year for curriculum, instruction and assessment? The following action steps surfaced throughout the task force discussions:

1. Revisit Your Ideal/Organic Curriculum to Address Emerging Priorities: How do your vision, mission and guiding principles reflect the priorities and lessons learning during the crisis?

  • Ensure that your vision statement identifies a true “North Star” to which your school district is heading in offering a Whole Child approach to education.
  • Make certain that your mission statement reinforces the importance of social-emotional learning and health/physical growth and development as essential components of students’ academic achievement.
  • Incorporate into district guiding principles performance indicators for monitoring students’ health, physical development and social-emotional growth in addition to their academic progress.


2. Ensure That Your Written Curriculum Integrates Social and Emotional Learning: How can you use the COVID-19 crisis as an entry point for discussing and addressing gaps or structural issues related to your written curriculum, including its pacing and sequencing?

  • Use school closings to revisit the extent to which your written curriculum has clearly articulated content and performance standards sequenced in a logical and spiraling way.
  • Use feedback from teachers, students and parents about the issue of power standards: To what extent were the most significant and spiraling (i.e., reused and revisited with increasing levels of depth and proficiency) academic standards clearly articulated to allow for ease of lesson design and delivery during school closings?
  • Determine areas of your written curriculum in which social-emotional learning standards might be integrated so that they become a part of ongoing progress monitoring.
  • Ensure that your written curriculum reinforces routines, classroom management strategies, and community building needed to ensure a safe, orderly, healthy and engaging learning environment in each classroom and content area.
  • Make certain that your written curriculum is culturally responsive, developing all learners’ cognitive skills, processes and habits of mind essential for becoming an independent learner.


3. Develop Recommendations and Performance Indicators for Instruction That Addresses the Whole Child and COVID-19-Related Issues: What are the unique challenges and needs that both students and staff will have as they reenter school and adjust to this new normal?

  • Ensure that all staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff, have the knowledge and skills to support effective virtual learning.
  • Develop recommendations and performance criteria for what effective lessons and units should look and feel like when presented virtually via distance learning.
  • Anticipate the need for students and staff to express their experiences, emotions and feelings resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges—and opportunities—of reopening.
  • Ensure that lessons always include strategies and processes that reinforce norms, protocols and routines that support students’ sense of safety, support and efficacy (e.g., morning meetings, class community debriefings about what works and doesn’t work, opportunities for celebration and acknowledgment, team building).
  • Make certain that lesson design reinforces group interdependence, collaboration and mutual support, including ongoing use of cooperative learning structures (e.g., Think-Pair-Share, small-group discussions and debriefings, JIGSAWs, games and tournaments, etc.).
  • Encourage small- and large-group debriefings and discussions, including opportunities to discuss and debate alternative perspectives and points of view about key topics and issues.
  • Emphasize the importance of teacher modeling and coaching related to students’ ability to self-regulate, engage in metacognitive reflection, apply interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills, and display ethical citizenship.
  • Help teachers to understand the range of trauma-based behaviors that may affect students’ learning experiences and potential disciplinary issues.


4. Determine How Your Assessed Curriculum Will Need to Change in Response to Student Needs: To what extent does your assessment system need to be revised and expanded to ensure a balanced approach to student progress monitoring?

  • Use school closings as a discussion point for revisiting current models of assessment and evaluation of student progress. To what extent do you use a balanced approach that includes diagnosis, ongoing feedback via formative assessment, and evaluation based on determining all students’ successful mastery of key power standards?
  • Provide professional learning to support teachers’ use of coaching strategies that deliver criterion-based feedback and support students’ progress toward independent application of key knowledge and skills.
  • Incorporate into your approach to progress monitoring, strategies and processes for monitoring students’ development of social-emotional learning skills and competencies, including self-regulation, interpersonal communication and citizenship.
  • Emphasize the value of authentic, performance-based assessment, including culminating independent and small-group projects that are authentic and engaging for learners.
  • Assess the extent to which your current assessment system addresses students’ varying readiness levels, interests and learner profiles.


5. Assess Your Supported Curriculum to Ensure It Reinforces Your Reopening Infrastructure: To what extent did the COVID-19 crisis reveal inequities and disproportionality concerns related to textbooks, supporting materials, technology and distance-learning resources, and emerging professional development priorities?

  • Continue your efforts to provide equitable access of all students to resources needed for virtual learning, including technology as well as reliable broadband/internet access.
  • Consider how you will support bifurcated models of schooling, including the possibility of some students and teachers engaged in in-person learning while others are working remotely.
  • Encourage staff to see the power of collaboration to ensure that classroom teachers can address the range of needs and emotional issues students may face during reopening (e.g., knowledge of counseling, health, social and psychological services, and related internal and community organizations available to students and their families).
  • Investigate the implications for textbooks and support materials if your school district uses a multi-modal approach, including some students learning in-person while others learn virtually.
  • Analyze the major impact of COVID-19 and school closings on special populations, including the services and supports students will require in such areas as Special Education, English Learners, Title I, and Talented and Gifted).


6. Expand Your Focus on Student Learning to Include Support and Monitoring Related to Issues Extending from COVID-19 and School Reopening: To what extent is reopening an opportunity to examine and adjust your approach and focus related to monitoring student progress and achievement?

  • Form crisis intervention teams to address current and emerging issues related to trauma, health, safety and potentially unreported incidents of abuse experienced by students.
  • Use feedback from staff and community to identify areas of strength and areas in need of enhancement related to available student services, counselors, health resources, safety protocols, communication and social and psychological services.
  • Examine the quality of your data dashboard and its capacity to provide meaningful and timely data about the range of needs and issues that students may be facing as they return to school.
  • Provide both professional learning and community outreach sessions to ensure that staff, families and community members are updated about the reopening process and services and resources available to them.


7. Evaluate Potential Gaps and Contradictions That May Result in a Hidden Curriculum During Reopening: How do patterns and behaviors observed among students, staff, parents and community members during school closings suggest areas in which omissions or contradictions are evident in your district’s curriculum system?

  • Engage staff in ongoing discussions and feedback sessions related to curriculum alignment. To what extent do your written, taught, assessed, supported and learned curricula align? Are there areas in which misalignment is present?
  • Begin study groups and action research teams to address identified problems of practice extending from these initial discussions.
  • Incorporate suggestions and recommendations into the next budget-planning cycle to address resources needed to eliminate causes of a “hidden curriculum.”