Audit gives Champaign curriculum low marks

CHAMPAIGN – Curriculum auditor Larry Frase said Champaign schools' systems failed to make good grades, and he recommended making substantial changes in the district's administrative and educational structure.

However, Frase said he didn't find any teaching or evaluation shortfalls at Champaign that he hasn't found in other districts.

"We've seen all these deficits in other districts, big districts like Baltimore and Houston," Frase said. "Generally, curriculum is lacking, and there's no good monitoring in place."

Frase and seven other education professionals spent four days in February visiting Champaign classrooms and talking to the administration, school board members, teachers and community members to find out which systems work and which don't. They also looked at policies and other documents to find out if what's happening in the classroom is consistent with administration goals.

The result, the 201-page audit, is "a bold step" for the district to take, Frase said. One important component of the "discrepancy analysis," he said, is one basic goal – that written, taught and tested curriculum must be completely aligned.

Frase reviewed the following five measurement standards:

– The district demonstrates control of resources, programs and personnel.

– The district has established clear and valid objectives for students.

– The district demonstrates internal consistency and rational equity in program development and implementation.

– The district has used results from a district design or adopted assessment to adjust, improve or terminate ineffective practices or programs.

– The district has improved productivity.

Champaign schools were found lacking on all five fronts. Frase said board policies are inadequate to direct sound curriculum management, the formal organization of the district isn't sound and planning is not adequate to guide improvements to learning.

He also said school board members aren't following their own policies about communication, especially e-mail communications, and they're not following the organizational chart, fragmenting administrative focus on priorities.

Frase said there's no comprehensive curriculum management plan in place, and that the scope of written plans is adequate for grades K-5, but not for higher grades.

He said inequities exist in terms of student placement, discipline, achievement and staffing, curriculum delivery is inconsistent, staff development is unfocused and data collected during classroom visits isn't consistent with district goals and state teaching standards.

Other findings were as follows:

– Test scores are above state and national averages at the high school level, but below state averages at the middle and elementary school levels.

– Performance trends are showing declines over time.

– Facilities are clean and well-maintained, but there's no comprehensive long-range plan for them.

– Computers assigned to schools aren't used as much as they should be, and technology for district financial, human resources and student services departments is getting old.

Frase submitted a list of 11 recommendations that included reorganizing the district's administrative structure. He suggested a new structure that would include new positions and would cost more.

The positions would include two assistant superintendents to supervise schools, a deputy superintendent for curriculum and equity and an assistant superintendent for research and evaluation.

"The district's spending huge sums of money on programs and not measuring the effects of it," he said of the mission for that research position.

"Student learning is too important to be left to chance," Frase said. "It's not the kids couldn't do it, it's how it's delivered and designed."

He said research shows that socioeconomic status, parental education and test scores are closely linked, and if teachers really understand that correlation, they can plan teaching methods to overcome deficiencies.

Other recommendations included revising board policies, setting priorities for long-range planning and school improvements, developing assessment and evaluation plans, developing a comprehensive systemwide curriculum management plan, designing and implementing a staff development program that supports district focus and designing and implementing a curriculum-driven budget process.

Superintendent Arthur Culver said he plans to review the report, which cost about $50,000, with employees, community members and court-appointed monitors overseeing equity issues before he and the board decide which direction to take.

The whole report will also be available at schools, libraries, district offices and possibly at the district's Web site for review by anyone who's interested.

"Some parts of this report disappoint me, sadden me, but they don't surprise me," said board member Jeff Wampler. "I'm confident that we'll move forward to get the job done. The team is in place."

"We're not at a loss," Culver said, underscoring the fact that he's had experience reversing negative trends at other districts.

"Low-performing districts don't do this," said Beth Shepperd, assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations, of the audit. "You do this when you want to reach high national standards."

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