Curriculum planning serves as model for other dioceses, countries

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Good results from good students rely on good teaching, which in turn is predicated on good planning.

This past year students at all levels in the elementary schools of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia scored between 20 and 25 points above the national mean in basic skills subtests in the TerraNova standardized tests they took either in the fall or spring.

Eighty-two of the 182 schools offered an honors math program and of those students who took Honors Algebra I, 90 percent scored in the 99th percentile in end-of-course testing. Not bad, considering Algebra I is ordinarily a freshman high school course.

“Part of the reason for this success is the dedication and service of a little more than a hundred administrators and teachers who are members of the curriculum committees responsible for developing the curriculum and end-of-level assessments used in archdiocesan elementary schools,” said Sister Edward Quinn, I.H.M., who is director of elementary curriculum and instruction for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Her own experience includes 28 years as a member of the elementary mathematics committee before taking on her present post a year ago.

Curriculum development and training doesn’t end with the final bell of the school year. Almost 1,000 educators have already participated in workshops focusing on rigorous and relevant instruction so far this summer, according to Sister Edward. More than 200 are scheduled to participate in an all-day workshop at St. Andrew Parish in Newtown on Aug. 27.

“I think these summer programs are absolutely wonderful. They give the teachers and administrators a chance to focus, not coming in after a full day’s work,” said Deborah Jaster, principal at St. Joseph/St. Robert School, Warrington and chair of the assessment committee.

She conducted a June Summer Institute for Teachers in Title I Schools which was attended by several hundred teachers and administrators.

Among the most important items to come out of the curriculum planning process recently was a handbook which presents different methods teachers can use in testing their students, Jaster said.

“The dedication of these educators is phenomenal. It is most evident in the fact that the majority of the work done by them is after school and on weekends and is done without compensation,” Sister Edward said. “Their commitment to excellence in Catholic education is laudable. Most are full-time teachers and administrators.”

The Philadelphia archdiocesan elementary school curriculum is so well regarded that a number of dioceses across the country have asked Sister Edward to give a presentation on it or for copies of it for use in their own planning. In the past year that includes San Francisco, Atlanta, Orlando, Hartford, Omaha, Birmingham and Portland, Ore., as well as inquiries from Germany and South America.

At this time there are curriculum committees for religion, math, integrated language arts, science, social studies, technology, health and physical education, early childhood, library, assessment and visual, performing and graphic arts.

There is also in the planning stages a new curriculum committee for world languages.

“Eighty-six elementary schools already teach a second language,” Sister Edward said. “The most popular is Spanish, but other languages include French, Latin, Greek, Italian and Chinese.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.