Beyond Textbooks: Coming Together to Improve Education

Vail, AZ | Submitted by Kevin Carney

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“Our students are rural and our district has limited resources. However, our students deserve all the opportunities for success that larger districts have.” -Mr. James Lotts, Superintendent of the Parker Unified School District.

It is statements like these that drive the Beyond Textbooks team to far reaching corners of Arizona, and further. Beyond Textbooks (BT) is a digital curriculum originally designed to create efficiencies and collaboration amongst teachers in the Vail School District. At a time when the district was struggling – both academically and financially – the district undertook an effort that would aim to improve student achievement while giving teachers the support and tools that they needed. Beyond Textbooks was developed, and as a result, Vail was named the top district two years in a row. The BT frameworks and tools were so successful that other districts took notice and tapped into the program, which proved especially popular with smaller and rural districts.

BT took seven key components from Vail’s greater pyramid philosophy as the backbone of its program. Each of the heavily researched practices provides teachers with a structural framework of calendared standards that includes a clear picture of what mastery of each standard looks like. From there, the BT Website provides teacher submitted resources to help teachers design lesson plans that meet the rigorous needs of their students. Additionally, there are common formative assessments to measure student mastery and drive further instruction and intervention through a formal Reteach and Enrich program.

Contrary to what most might think, BT is not throwing away textbooks, nor is it simply a “teacher resource bank.” It is a program that employs an entire research based education philosophy. BT provides every partner organization with no less than 26 hours of professional development on how to successfully implement and utilize a data driven focus to measure student achievement. Partners learn each of the seven key components of BT from experienced Vail staff. Although it operates under the guidance of the Vail Curriculum Department, every aspect of BT from choosing Essential Standards to the creation of Common Formative Assessments is teacher-driven. Teachers are the masters of the classroom, and it is BT’s goal to provide them with a tool that allows them to choose the best methods and resources for their students.

What BT didn’t originally plan for, is that a mere ten years later it is a program that is working with 110 partner school districts and charters from Arizona and four other states. It is a program more than 12,000 teachers use to challenge their students with rigorous curriculum that goes above and beyond the state expectations. BT’s strength in core curriculum for K-12 schools is a great fit for districts that are aligning their efforts to the Arizona Education Progress Meter goal to improve third grade reading and eighth grade math proficiency.

With more than 300 trainings per year that reach 10,000 educators, BT can be customized to meet the needs of any school district. The systematic approach ensures that teachers are working from the same playbook. And to compliment the professional development, BT hosts an annual conference with more than 50 breakout sessions to choose from. The most recent event was attended by over 70 districts and charters. And participants have a lot to say:

  • “The effort and expertise was evident in each and every training. Every single professional development that we have collaborated on has set the bar for all our local designed supports to achieve.” – Director of Professional Development and Assessment
  • “I think you folks are doing more to facilitate quality education in Arizona’s schools than any other initiative the state has experienced in the last decade.”  – Superintendent
  • “The program is well constructed and if followed with integrity will yield results. We have experienced good results. It is and will continue to be the backbone of our curriculum.” – Superintendent
  • “I love it. BT makes planning so much easier.” – Teacher

In order for Arizona to lead the charge in changing the face of education in America, it’s time for districts to band together in the name of student success. BT’s unique philosophy of “Coming Together to Improve Education” allows the success of the Vail School District to be replicated across Arizona, following the belief that ALL students deserve the opportunity for educational excellence.

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