Building Philanthropy for a Better Florida

ENGAGE Funders' Toolkit

Module 3: Ensuring Excellent Instruction: District Work & Needs

Q&A: How Duval County Uses Standards-Aligned Tools to Drive Achievement

School districts around the country are stepping up to address an urgent need: To align curricula to new, high standards and adopt tools to aid teachers in teaching to them. One example is Florida’s Duval County Public Schools, which recently began using open educational resources from EngageNY to align its reading and math curriculum to higher standards.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked Dr. Holli N. Fears, executive director of English language arts for grades 3-5 in Duval County, about the district’s work with the new resources and how teachers and students are tackling higher standards.

What is different for teachers in Duval County now that they’re using the EngageNY resources? 

Teachers are finding that they no longer spend hours upon hours searching for supplemental materials in an attempt to align their instruction and the tasks students are asked to complete to the Florida Standards (similar to the Common Core State Standards). Instead, teachers have a wealth of well-aligned resources at their fingertips. They spend their time reviewing the materials and preparing for instruction with a solid resource, where before the time was spent in crafting lessons from the ground up.

How have teachers responded to the curriculum? 

Most teachers embraced it with excitement, but as with any new resource, there also were struggles that come with learning a new layout and curricular components. On top of that, these particular materials align to standards that require much more thinking and ownership from students than our previous Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in the areas of literacy and mathematics. However, with those growing pains has come much content learning and instructional capacity-building. Teachers are more agile in navigating complex text and determining how it will be presented to students. They are more collaborative in their lesson preparation in that they are discussing standards and how they will move students to mastery.

How has the district supported teachers in implementing the new curriculum?

District staff provided summer training where teachers were able to review the content and become familiar with the instructional approach before implementing it in the classroom. For both reading and mathematics, model teachers were identified from across the district, and we created videos of those teachers in action for professional development purposes. The curriculum department has developed a plan to survey all teachers and hold focus groups regarding the curriculum resources. Once stakeholder input is gathered, teams will begin revising the curriculum pacing guides for the upcoming school year.

Read the complete Q&A at gatesfoundation.org  

Setting the Stage in Pasco

In 2014, Pasco County Schools partnered with TNTP on completion of a diagnostic assessment of their system and “examined the extent to which teachers, school leaders and district leaders are respectively adjusting their instructional practices, teacher support and district-wide initiatives to align with the new Florida Standards.”

Two of the primary findings of the assessment revealed that while the district had made several key steps towards implementation of the new standards, there was critical work to do in ensuring that students are consistently engaging in rigorous content and fully leveraging the important structures of Professional Learning Communities in order to help teachers understand the Florida Standards and raise the rigor of every classroom.

The report provided several solutions, which Pasco County Schools embraced as education leaders refined their focus, strategies and overall system. The primary recommendation was for Pasco to “develop a unifying definition for instructional excellence,” signaling to leaders that their mission and vision were not tangible enough to truly create common expectations for rigor in their classrooms. With this data in hand, as well as additional research, and a great sense of urgency, the district was determined to create a big opportunity that would make a difference for their district.

This very focused, intentional, and systematic work in Pasco, supported both by TNTP and other partner districts as part of a Florida network, has yielded both improvements in classroom instruction, monitored by national tools, and increases in student learning as evidenced by recent state assessment results.

All signs point towards Pasco fulfilling their mission of providing a world class education for all students, and ensuring all students are achieving success in college, in career and life.

Learn more about the work in Pasco County. 

 Setting and Monitoring Expectations for Success 

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ENGAGE is an initiative of Florida Philanthropic Network in partnership with its Education Affinity Group and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Special thanks to Jacksonville Public Education Fund, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Conn Memorial Foundation, TNTP and Pasco County Schools for their insight, time and contributions to the ENGAGE toolkit.