RISD is rewriting its curriculum to increase rigor at all levels and improve alignments throughout the system.

This rewrite consists of three parts: course workplan; classroom work and teaching strategies; and assessment methodology used to measure continuous improvement during the course instead of a pass/fail at the end.

To support the rewrite, we’re refocusing staff development on instructional strategies. We’re pushing teachers to adopt new ways to help all students learn, which means they may have to change the way they teach. And we’re raising expectation levels for all kids…with remarkable results in our current pilot programs.

We are adopting the Advanced Placement (AP) and pre-AP curriculums promulgated by the College Boards. To teach an AP course, a teacher must attend a five-day certification program covering material content and instructional strategies.

We then create vertical teams composed of 7th through 12 grade teachers in each subject area who work together to ensure consistency and progressive content knowledge.

In grades 7-10, we are adding pre-AP courses to enhance our honors program. Language arts was implemented this school year. Math and social studies will start next year, followed by science in ’99-’00.

The entrance criteria required for honors courses in the past will be eliminated. Any student may take a pre-AP course, but the rigor will not be compromised. Students may drop the course early on, but beyond the drop date, they must stick it out for the semester.

Pilot schools are reporting that this student commitment requirement is producing outstanding results among kids who didn’t think they could do it.

Naturally, we will continue to offer regular classes. All courses require students to master state-mandated essential knowledge. The difference is that the AP courses encourage high order thinking skills.

In stressing rigor, the state has eliminated many remedial courses. We are applying for individual waivers in some cases. But mainly, we are re-examining how we’re teaching the material. Different students learn in different ways, and teachers must address those varied learning styles in every classroom.

In order to support pre-AP in junior high, we must press material down into elementary grades as well. For instance, higher-level math skills must be introduced earlier and earlier. There are ways to teach algebraic concepts even in kindergarten.

We believe math must be taught in a problem-solving, real world context, not as skills in isolation. So reading and math will be incorporated into all applications from kindergarten through 12th grade. Bottom line: RISD is reinventing its education product.