Leader Blues

Monday, February 22, 2010

TOP STORY >> Cabot school to go without textbooks

Workers are installing the metal roof at Mountain Springs Elementary School.

By JOAN McCOY

Leader staff writer

The new Mountain Springs Elementary School, which opens this fall in Cabot, will be the first in the state not to use textbooks.

Harold Jeffcoat, director of curriculum for the districtís elementary schools, told the school board Tuesday evening that instead of paying $250,000 for math and social studies books, the district will pay $1,000 for software that will let teachers choose and share instructional material tailored to the state standards to which they must teach.

Textbooks are written to a national standard and donít necessarily contain the lessons that Arkansas policy says students must be taught.

As an example, Jeffcoat said Arkansas requires that fourth-graders learn about major mountain ranges. But the $45 social studies book adopted by the district barely mentioned some of them and didnít contain a full lesson about any.

ďItís our state standard weíre held accountable to and our students are tested on,Ē he said.

If the materials they need are not in their textbooks, teachers have no choice but to search out other sources. So they are already building their own programs.

The new software will make it easier to find what they need. Digital instructional material also will be more varied with videos available and maps enhanced by Google Earth that will, for example, show students what a real mountain in the Andes looks like.

The teachers will select the content of the Web site that the program will use, he said. That process will start when the teachers for the new school are assembled.

After that, if the program works as touted, the teachers will share their best finds and the program will continue to improve.

Although the school will have no textbooks, paper worksheets may be printed from the digital lessons. Students will still have homework and work to take home to show their parents.

In other business, principals from the junior highs and high school talked about what they are doing to improve scores on open- response questions to test reading comprehension before testing starts next month. The principals said low scores in the past could be attributed in some cases to lack of interest.

The students donít seem to care about the scores. But part of the the problem is the lack of experience with answering questions that require reading an essay and making inferences based on the information it contains.

To get them ready, principals and teachers have been working with students in small groups, teaching them how to think on a higher level and also how to recognize the cues that will help them really understand the questions they are required to answer.