Lesson-pacing guides receive mixed reviews


After 37 years in the classroom, Agnes Galloway is finally getting the extra help she's been wishing for since her first year of teaching.

Last month, the eighth-grade language arts teacher at Old Mill Middle School-North received a three-ring binder that contains a day-to-day outline of the lessons she will be expected to teach, with suggested texts for her pupils to read.

"I think they're wonderful," Galloway said of the pacing guides, part of an aggressive push by Anne Arundel school officials to provide students with a similar learning environment across county schools. Before this, she said, "they would give you the content you had to teach, and you had to find the materials."

But the initiative, subject of a presentation to the school board yesterday, is being criticized by some veteran teachers who feel it limits what they can achieve in the classroom.

"They really have streamlined things now so that your hands are tied in some instances," said Keith Smith, a veteran science teacher at Chesapeake High School. "I still enjoy teaching the class, but I would like to have a little bit more freedom to do things I've done in the past with kids," such as independent library research and oral presentations.

The switch to daily pacing guides at every grade level and in nearly every subject is unusual among Maryland school systems, all of which are looking for ways to meet state and federal requirements that children be held to the same academic standards.

While most counties outline in broad strokes the curriculum concepts that need to be covered, few are as prescriptive as Anne Arundel. Baltimore schools tell teachers what they need to cover on a monthly basis.

Arundel schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he asked for the daily pacing guides to be developed and put into effect this school year because he felt it was unfair to make teachers shoulder all the responsibility of helping students pass new standards, such as Maryland's future high school exit exams. He also has a goal of providing uniform textbooks for all students at each grade level.

"For the teachers, who are in a way being judged, they have absolutely no guidance about what needs to be taught," Smith said. "It's very, very difficult for them to determine what needs to be taught, at what level and how quickly. It can become a very frustrating task."

Curriculum director Lynn E. Whittington, who oversaw production of the guides, said teachers sometimes fall behind if they do not have a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished in a given time during the year.

"If you don't keep moving on, these kids keep falling further behind," Whittington said.

But the guides are not intended to prevent teachers from being creative in their classrooms. "It's the when and the what," Whittington said. "They still have the how."

Keith Smith said he does not feel the pacing guides help. "Everything is so fast-paced and geared to testing," said Smith, a teacher for 33 years. "You have to cover it with a lick and a whisper, very hurriedly and sometimes haphazardly."

He said he feels pressured to stick to the guidelines, even at the expense of doing classroom activities he found useful in the past.

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