By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
Diocesan schools are continuing their pursuit of excellence through a seven-year curriculum review process.
“We are in year two of our updated diocesan collaboration plan for curriculum,” said Andrew Hilliker, Director of the Office of Catholic Schools. “What that means is that the content areas of social studies and technology have either completed the process or are near completion of aligning all of our objectives to the most recent standards and then the math and phy-ed content areas are beginning that process.”
One aspect of school accreditation is maintaining current standards for curriculum across all subject areas. Every seven years, an audit team comprised of educators evaluates schools on curriculum development and other standards.
Hilliker, who is also principal of St. Joseph’s School in Moorhead and vice president of the Minnesota Nonpublic School Accrediting Association, said the last accreditation visit revealed schools in the diocese have very strong academic outcomes, however each school had room for improvement in the area of curriculum development.
“One of the greatest challenges in fulfilling the accreditation requirements is the curriculum expectation that our Minnesota Nonpublic School Accrediting Association requires,” he said. “If we can complete this plan – it’s a living plan, a living document – if we keep the momentum going, we will be alleviating the most challenging standard for accreditation that exists.”
According to Hilliker, St. Michael’s School in Mahnomen will be the next diocesan school to renew their accreditation.
“They should be able to take all the work we are doing and submit it to the team that is visiting and auditing their school and they’ll get a stamp of approval saying ‘you’re not only assessing students, you’re not only responding to how their assessments look, but you’re also updating outcomes with the most recent standards. You have a defined process to do that,’ which is huge,” Hilliker said.
He said it is not realistic for small schools to manage this amount of work by themselves. He added that many public schools have someone dedicated to maintaining curriculum standards, and even smaller districts have curriculum development staff.
Completing this process will also help teachers – especially those new to a grade level – with lesson planning by providing clear expectations for student outcomes determined by state standards.
“If you print off the state standards for math, you’re looking at dozens and dozens of pages per grade level. It’s unmanageable,” Hilliker said. “For a new teacher or a veteran teacher to be able to look at the content areas they are planning and to say, ‘these are the outcomes I need my second graders to be proficient in for math or reading or writing or religion by the time they leave my classroom’ … that’s a pretty powerful document.”
Another piece of the process is using standard assessment tools across the diocese.
“Beginning in September 2018, all of the schools in the diocese with the exception of Red Lake unified under a common assessment called NWEA Measures of Academic Progress,” Hilliker said.
All the students at Catholic schools in the diocese completed assessments in reading, math, and language usage. Hilliker said diocesan wide data can now be studied to identify content area strengths and weaknesses and guide curriculum adjustments.
“It doesn’t mean that we all have to use the same things in our schools, but if we recognize across the board we need to renew or update our math resources, our dollars can go a lot farther if we come together than if we are alone.”