In the past decade, Delta County School District 50J has seen what Curriculum Director Sam Cox called “a dip” in standardized test scores, which indicated that something at the district level needed to improve, Cox said.
Cox, who was the Paonia Elementary School principal until the end of last academic year, stepped into his roll as the director of curriculum over the summer. At that time, he got to help guide the adoption of a new system that, if successful, could be more relevant than most curriculums, while aligning all the academic goals that have gone astray in the past.
This academic year, from August of last year until May, Delta County School District 50J is using a system called “Beyond Textbooks,” (BT) which is an online network where teachers can not only easily access state education requirements on demand, but also share resources, access other instructor resources, and have countless assignments and assessments at their disposal.
“This doesn’t replace textbooks,” Cox said. “It’s in addition to textbooks.”
According to Beyond Textbooks’ map of partners, Delta County School District 50J is the first, and so far only, school district in the Colorado Western Slope that is partnered with BT. There are three other Colorado partners besides Delta, and they’re all in the front range area of Denver, Commerce City and Littleton.
Cox explained that, in the past, curriculums that were based off state standards and imposed on schools by the district came with a required textbook. Those textbooks would not always line up with the state’s requirements for education, as almost no textbooks are published in Colorado. Therefore, they would require “jumping around” in the book, while many of the lessons the book provides are never covered.
Cox compared Beyond Textbooks, at a basic level, to a service called “Teachers Pay Teachers,” which he said was like Pinterest for teachers.
“Like with Teachers Pay Teachers, teachers can share resources, but it’s vetted by [Beyond Textbooks] to make sure it’s relevant,” Cox said.
Part of the way Beyond Textbooks realign academic goals, according to Cox, is by providing required, short assessments that are consistent from classroom to classroom, which provides a comparative structure. That way, teachers within the system know where they fall in relation to others and instructors are able to use networking to find out what’s working and what’s not working.
According to Cox, there has not yet been any comparable data that the district can use to see how Beyond Textbooks has affected learning this year, as there have not yet been any standardized tests. Those will take place in March, with results coming in over the summer.
Beyond Textbooks started in Arizona, created by the Vail, Arizonia school district. Out of 117 partners, most of the partnerships for BT are still in Arizona, with a few select partnerships in further areas, with the outliers being northern Idaho, Illinois and Kentucky. There’s a partnership on Saint Paul Island as well.
Cox said that before the Delta County school district partnered with BT over the summer, there had been a networking project within the district to create a similar network, but with the size of the district and the unlikelihood that they’d be able to get other school districts on board, they decided to abandon their tentative plans and join the BT community.
“I know it will help,” Cox said.
After standardized tests are done in the spring and the district receives the results, they’ll be able to see what kind of fine-tuning will need to be done from there.