W.Va. Schools Make Transition to 21st Century Classrooms

October 03, 2006

MADISON, W.Va. _ Principal Leonard Bolton has seen test scores improve significantly at Scott High School in recent years. Now he’s hoping a new ninth grade academy at the Boone County school will help students move beyond mastery to distinguished levels of performance as West Virginia moves to increase rigor in its curriculum.  

21st Century Students

Although the school enrolls students in grades 9-12, beginning this fall freshman have been separated from the upperclassmen and operate on a different schedule in an effort to further improve student performance.  

“Anything we can do to increase our achievement levels, we want to be part of,” Bolton said. “We’re doing really well attaining mastery but want to build above and beyond so that our kids can compete in a global environment. We can’t be satisfied to be average any longer.”  

Scott is one of 16 high schools chosen to participate as pilot sites for the West Virginia Department of Education’s 21st Century High Schools That Work program. The initiative is a five-year effort to provide targeted technical assistance to schools that have committed to implementing practices to improve student performance and school effectiveness.  

“Public schools must dramatically change to meet the challenges of the knowledge economy,” West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine said. “In West Virginia we recognize the importance of connecting high school reform initiatives with 21st century skills and are working to infuse these skills into the curriculum.”  

The 21st Century High Schools That Work program builds on standards established by the Southern Regional Education Board’s High Schools that Work design, which was founded on the conviction that students can master rigorous academic and technical studies if school leaders and teachers create an environment that motives students.  

"Teaching students is no longer about how many facts can be memorized,” Paine said. “Students must be able to comprehend, problem solve, and communicate solutions if they are expected to compete. In a global economy, whether we like it or not, the jobs will go somewhere else if our children don’t have these skills.”  

The current generation of 18- to 38-year-olds will likely work an average of 10 jobs in their lifetime, compared to one or two jobs that their parents and grandparents held. As educators nationwide consider ways to address the need for 21st-century learning, many are looking to West Virginia and North Carolina as models.  

Last fall, West Virginia became the second state in the nation behind North Carolina to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The group is made up of 26 members, including Adobe Systems Inc., Apple, Cisco Systems, Dell Inc. and Microsoft.  

“States can provide students with a truly relevant education by incorporating 21st century skills into core subjects,” said Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. “Mastering core content – the focus of most school improvement efforts to date – is just the start. The urgent challenge now is for state leaders to equip their students with the communication, collaboration and ICT literacy skills that are in demand in postsecondary learning, on the job and in modern society.”  

West Virginia has identified six key elements of 21st century learning based on the partnership’s philosophy: _Core subjects, such as English, reading and language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics, government, economics, arts, history and geography. _21st century learning skills, including information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills and personal and workplace productivity skills. _21st century tools, including information and communication technologies such as computers, networking, iPods, whiteboards, audio, video, multimedia and other tools. _21st century context, which allows students to become better learners through an education that is relevant, engaging and meaningful through real-world examples. _21st century content, including global awareness; financial, economic and business literacy; civic literacy; and health and wellness awareness. _21st century assessments, which measure all elements of 21st century skills.  

To achieve these goals, the state Board of Education has adopted the Educational Technology for 21st Century Learners Strategic Work Plan, a series of steps it plans to take to support 21st century learning. The board also has updated its goals for professional development and is revising content standards and objectives to increase rigor and include higher thinking skills.  

The Department of Education also has developed the Frameworks for 21st Century Schools and Classrooms, which provide the foundation for professional development and technical assistance and unite the efforts of the 55 school districts with the governor, Legislature and state board.  

"The critical element of all this is professional development," said Lydia McCue, executive director of the Superintendent’s Center for 21st Century Schools. "We need to make sure we have enough support for teachers. This kind of teaching requires a lot more time for teachers to create lessons that are highly interactive and engaging."

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