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The 21st Century Project Moves Forward in Weston

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice presented his plan to enhance the Weston schools' curriculum to the Hurlbutt Elementary and Weston Intermediate PTOs.

At a combined meeting of the Hurlbutt Elementary and Weston Intermediate Schools' Parent Teacher Organizations on Wednesday morning, Assistant Superintendent Thomas Scarice presented a blueprint for an enhanced curriculum that will teach students the necessary skills to successfully compete in a global economy.

The presentation will be uploaded on the Board of Education's website soon.

"We are not implementing a new curriculum, we are enhancing what we already do," said Scarice. Named the , the initiative was designed with three drivers in mind: internal, external and best practice.

Since over 80% of Weston schoolchildren perform at goal or higher on current standardized tests, Scarice realized that the student population was ready to be challenged in a different way. 

Since 1983, federal testing has ushered the "standards movement" to the forefront of public education, according to Scarice. As a result, external pressures have motivated schools to measure recall and recognition of facts instead of critical thinking and applied learning skills, which Scarice says is "what the workplace demands."

The challenge for top-performing districts, such as Weston, is to cultivate learners who take risks, since routine skills are increasingly automated and outsourced.

"The key takeaway is that what's easiest to teach and test are the skills that a person probably won't be [using] in 10 years," he said. "Schools need to foster critical thinkers."

Several questions from the parents who attended focused on the method and cost of such an assessment, which is in its pilot program this year for students in 11th grade.

One parent noted that "everyone in this room will solve the same problem differently. Will the assessment take different approaches to problem solving into account?"

"Yes," Scarice replied. "We want this to be an engaging task," with relatively low stress. Other parents expressed concern that the program would increase the amount of testing and pressure students must tolerate.

"We're not adding content," Scarice emphasized. "It's about changing the approach." 

As the program is still in development, only selected classes over the next two to three years will be actively involved, although "we want to share student performance to inform instruction," Scarice said.

The program cost, which is estimated to be roughly $130,000 for each of the next two years, will be defrayed by a $50,000 grant from the Weston Education Foundation. Scarice noted that they are hoping for a philanthropic contribution of an additional $80,000. During the last two years of the program's implementation, the training will be done in-house and additional funding should not be required.

Weston is partnering with Columbia University's Teachers College, an idea that Scarice had "over the summer while I was mowing my lawn," he said.

Scarice met with a researcher from Columbia and presented his idea. Columbia was intrigued by the idea of a "scalable" program, and although the Teachers College traditionally works with at-risk schools, agreed to work with Weston because "they liked the idea," according to Scarice.

The Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program "has put a carrot in front of the states, and that carrot is billions of dollars" in education funding, he said. 

"It's about driving innovation in the classroom instead of presenting more [testing] data to the public," Scarice noted.

According to Scarice, Weston Schools are apparently alone among our peers in implementing this new approach. "We need to measure what we value," he said, instead of "valuing what we measure."

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