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4J Tries Out Updated Curriculum Adoption Process With Science

Only a year ago, Kelly Middle School science teacher Dustin Dawson expressed his concern at a school board meeting that Eugene School District 4J wasn’t moving fast enough to adopt new science curriculum. At the time, some of 4J’s schools were using 20-year-old textbooks with outdated information written before Pluto was declassified as a planet and before the human genome was sequenced. Dawson was supplementing his classes with his own material.

While high schools at 4J have not yet started the science curriculum adoption process, Dawson says elementary and middle schools at 4J are well on their way to adopting science curriculum based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which Oregon adopted in 2014. 

This process represented 4J’s first curriculum adoption since the “grassroots” adoption in 2014 of College Preparatory Mathematics, a math curriculum chosen by 4J in a way many in the community felt excluded the input of teachers.  

After that adoption, 4J decided to revise its process to make it more inclusive. “District instructional leaders have been continuing work to refine the curriculum adoption process,” says 4J spokesperson Kerry Delf. “I expect it will be finalized this spring.”

Dawson says that Kim Finch, 4J’s STEM education administrator, solicited teacher input and identified around 20 middle school teachers to pilot potential curricula. 

“I think what I like the best about this process is that anyone was welcome,” Dawson says. “[Kim Finch] worked hard to get everybody more involved, and for professional developments, she always told us to invite anyone who wanted to come.”

4J hopes to have new science curriculum for elementary and middle schools by spring of this year, which Dawson says should give teachers enough time to prepare for tests aligned to the NGSS. These tests could arrive as early as the 2018-19 school year.

The NGSS focus on the process of science rather than the memorization of facts, Dawson says, a feature that encourages students to dig deep into concepts. The new curriculum offers hands-on approaches to learning and inspires students to think and ask questions, he adds.

 “This is certainly a model for how an adoption should go,” Dawson says. 

Delf says that high school science curriculum updates are slated to begin next school year, with curriculum implementation happening in the 2017-18 school year, at the earliest. This gives high school students one year to prepare for the new test with updated curriculum.