Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series of stories exploring new programs the Kyrene School District may provide to students next school year.
The Kyrene School District Governing Board is exploring new education programs and methods it hopes to implement as early as fall 2011.
These programs are meant to provide more choices for families and to better meet the learning needs for students, as well as increase revenue, Superintendent David Schauer said.
"The programs are all in very different places," he said. "They are evolving at different rates, they will look different in terms of how they will be implemented and when they will be implemented."
The push for new styles in education is not only being felt in the Kyrene district.
The United States has fallen to "average" in international education rankings released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and in 2008 Arizona was ranked 49th out of 50 states in the amount of money spent per student, according to Quality Counts 2008.
These statistics have sparked multiple changes to curriculum across the state and country, Theresa Sweeney, Kyrene director of curriculum, said during a presentation in March where faculty members discussed three potential programs.
"In order to meet the challenge of shifting standards we are going to have to transform all schools into a new kind of learning," Sweeney said. "Even though it's a challenge it's also an opportunity to do what is best for kids."
One effort being examined would join together Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union, Kyrene and Arizona State University to change the way students advance through grade levels.
"It pretty much takes away the whole concept of chronological age associated with grade levels," Schauer said during the meeting.
P-20: Advance When Ready would allow students to move into higher levels of learning based on knowledge and comprehension rather than age.
It would divide students into "bands of learning" as opposed to grades, which would give both teachers and students more cohesion and flexibility, Schauer said.
The program is designed to give students instruction and allow them to take an assessment when they feel they are ready, rather than waiting for a class test.
Kyrene has purchased new online formative assessment tools, meaning that the assessments happen on a regular basis.
"We know that the work on the curriculum and the assessment piece of this is critical," Schauer said.
But once the assessment component is worked out, Schauer is confident that instructors can provide individual learning experiences for each child.
"This program allows us to know when the kid has it and is ready to move on or when they need more time in a particular area," Schauer said. "That's the beauty of it. It's all electronic. It can be taken on laptops or computer labs. Kids can get instant feedback, teachers can get instant reports."
The board must get the schools International Bachelorette-designated before implementing the program.
Board members have already visited an International Bachelorette elementary school in Paradise Valley and feel that they can prepare a Kyrene school for official designation in two years.
"We feel like we have a really good understanding of what it takes," Schauer said. "We think that if we can connect this Advance When Ready concept to the International Bachelorette label, we'll generate a lot of interest."
Before Kyrene can pursue International Bachelorette designation, it has to decide with the other districts which schools to focus on and who will be in charge of the efforts.
This planning process could be finished in time for the fall 2011 school year or could be extended through next year.
"I think this is a really exciting program but this is one that I think needs to be thought out pretty carefully," Kyrene governing board member Ross Robb said during the presentation. "This could be a three- or five-year kind of thing to really, really establish it."
Governing board vice president Ellen Shamah agreed that more fine-tuning must be done before the program could be considered.
"The devils are in the details, and I don't see any details being done," Shamah said during the March meeting. "Continuous progress sounds great, except what happens if you have the eighth-grade child that's reading at a third-grade level. There has to be some parameters."
While Schauer agrees that P-20 requires more modification, he does not believe the program will only be beneficial to quick learners.
"I want people to know that Advance When Ready is not exclusively for the accelerated learner," Schauer said. "This type of approach, I think, is just as valuable for the learner who is not making the same progress because teachers would be very well versed in strategies that work with a slower learner and would be able to identify problems quickly."
Kyrene, Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union and Arizona State University will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. on June 9 at the Tempe Elementary School District office, 3205 S. Rural Road, to discuss further plans for the program.
• Whitney Begin is a student at Arizona State University serving an interniship with AFN.