Evidence - Based Approaches Of Curriculum Implementantion. Some Grass-Roots Exemples
The paper focuses on the concept of curriculum implementationas part of a wider process of curriculum development. In Romania, the general practice of policy implementation is focused on top down approaches; by this, educational authorities orient the curriculum implementation by means of official documents (such as Ministry Orders, recommendations), the result being a text driven reform. Although it has its advantages, especially in terms of duration of implementation, the approach limits the opportunities that schools have in order to propose localised and/or customised perspectives for curriculum. The starting point is a small research conducted in four schools in Romania. The research seems to demonstrate the existence of a number of common practices that occur in schools when implementing the national curriculum. For example, curriculum design activities can be transformed in opportunities for professional dialogue and peer learning. These commonalities can be consolidated as formal internal indicators to be used by schools in the process of self-evaluation.
Keywords: Evidencecurriculum implementationcurriculum design"implementation gap"process indicatorsschool level
The implementation or enactment of a process of curriculum change as part of a wider process of
curriculum development (Potolea, Toma & Borza, 2012) is frequently the focus of research that deal with
comprehensive educational changes/reforms. In many countries, implementation strategies regularly have
specific components that are aimed at the school, and that take into account the mechanisms that it can
mobilize in order to put into practice, monitor, and evaluate the intended changes.
The implementation approaches that are identified in the research (Fullan, 1991; Simkins, Ellison
& Garrett, 1992; Elmore & Sykes, 1992, quoted in Căpiță, 2007) are constantly under scrutiny and
reassessed. Although the perspectives on curriculum implementation have diversified, two directions
shaped during the 1990s (Fullan, 1991) seem to be present in all approaches: if the intended aims and
objectives of the change are accepted at the level of the system; and, if the technical quality of the change
in relation to the stated objective is clearly formulated.
Both directions are under renewed scrutiny. First, because the distance between the intentions and
what is actually happening seems to be increasing; and, second, because changes seem to be more and
more precipitated, to have a weak support, or not to have been fully thought through (Hargreaves, quoted
in Clement, 2014). Therefore, lower performing systems have large "implementation gap" between the
policies enacted at the national, state, or even district level, and what actually happens in classrooms.
These gaps can be explained through the lack of alignment between the curriculum and assessment, and
between the training programs for teachers and the real needs of the school.
In Romania, the process of implementation, as one stage of cycle of educational change, is
supported by various means, but the most frequent method is through normative documents, an approach
labelled "text driven reform" or mandated change. Nevertheless, even the best texts remain unused or are
used only formally, without any support from the part of the intended beneficiaries. What could constitute
a possible solution? As an alternative to the frequent changes introduced from the outside, schools should
initiate the change and establish implementation strategies in order to foster the perception of ownership
over the process of change.
The Research Question
The paper takes under scrutiny the concept of curriculum implementation. The starting point are
the results of an exploratory research conducted in four schools in Romania (four different counties:
Argeș, Maramureș, Vrancea, and Ilfov). The schools have used the document
proiectare și aplicarea a curriculumului la nivel de școală (The Methodological Framework for
in the school made it feasible. It is important to note that the teaching staff of these schools was involved
in the actual development of this document. During this period, research instruments were applied in the
four schools. For example, the questionnaire related to the school-based curriculum was applied in the
period in which the schools were developing their offer. The schools were asked to fill in a number of
questionnaires that were focused on specific chapters of the
contribution of the program 'The school Otherwise', the relation between the taught and the evaluated
curricula). The questionnaires were intended as part of an action research scheme; besides collecting
relevant data, the questionnaires were intended as means for supporting schools in their effort to localise
the curriculum: to offer a reflective context for the analysis of the framework; to help schools to gather
relevant data pertaining to the four relevant elements of curriculum implementation at school level; and,
to help schools in the effort to develop strategies concerning the production of relevant pares
documenting their own activity. The questionnaires were filled in by a group of teachers in each school,
with the help and supervision of the school principals.
The collected data were then analyzed in order to identify commonalities between these schools
during the process of curriculum implementation. Our contribution will focus on the analysis of the topic
of curriculum design at school level.
Curriculum Design at School Level
Within this research, we define curriculum design at school level as the design process that takes
into consideration the individualising (positive and inhibiting) factors that give a specific identity to the
school as an institution of curriculum implementation (Căpiță & Mândruț, 2016).
The topic of curriculum design is of significance, due to the fact that it is traditionally associated
to the individual activity of each teacher, and is part of the core competences of a teacher. The messages
channelled through the programs of study in the last two decades did indeed promote a certain isolation of
the process of curriculum design; three of the significant actions – the personalized reading of the
program of study, the identification of learning units, the design of the learning units (Curriculum
national Council/CNC, 2002) – can foster such an "isolation" of the design of the curriculum
But the context has changed, and in the new generation of programs of study teaching suggestions
are integrated that promote the collaboration between teachers. In each subject, teachers have to deal with
topics that range beyond the borders of traditional school subjects and, frequently, of the classroom and
the school. The program of study for History in the IVth Grade, for example, states that "
the program of study in the classroom, the teacher will negotiate with the students on the subject of
national and European topics. This modus of implementing the program of study responds to the
principle of curriculum design that advocates the use of the school context, in accordance to students'
interests, educational resources, the support elements available for the school, and even the choice
between a more traditional or innovative didactic approach".
Description of the instrument and collected data
The questionnaire was built on the assumption that curriculum design activities can be regarded as
opportunities of professional dialogue and peer learning. This perspective, in fact, reduces the stress
induced by the administrative dimension of the documentation developed by the teacher and by
transforming them in evidence related to the ways in which the curriculum might be interpreted and
negotiated in order to respond better to the actual situation in the classroom and the school. Therefore,
practices can be constantly adjusted in accordance to objectives that go beyond the strict confines of a
school subject or a particular teaching period. The questionnaire had items related to the documents of
curriculum design at school level, the administrative structures that have responsibilities in the field, the
attitude of actors within the school regarding this field of action.
The development of the research instrument comprised several stages. First, an analysis of the
various normative documents that governs school activity, starting with the Law of National Education
(LEN) to the secondary legislation (such as the regulation regarding the school inspection and the
regulation of the functioning of the schooling units). This analysis targeted the structures that are
responsible at school level for the localised curriculum design and the provisions in the legislation that set
the framework for this activity. The first result indicates that the legislation has basically nu such
requirements, the curriculum design at school level being perceived as implicit. There is one exception.
The teachers' council has the ability to propose measures to improve the didactic processes and activities
(LEN, art. 98.2). Another category of documents are the standards developed by the National Agency for
Quality Assurance in Secondary Education (ARACIP/NAQASE) for the external assessment of schools.
These standards are focused mostly on the curriculum documents developed at school level (hence, on the
level of quality of these documents), rather than on the process of curriculum development.
To sum up, the documentary research put forth the conclusion that both the legal framework and
the school practice consider the curriculum design as only a task for the individual teacher. There are no
opportunities for co-operation within the teacher community, and no provisions for curriculum design and
implementation 'beyond the classroom'. To support the (individual) activity of curriculum design, schools
have specific structures, but the administrative aspects are predominant.
Following these sources, analyses that consider the school as a learning community were taken
A deep knowledge with the school as a learning community is important when assessing the ways
in which interactions between students/teachers and knowledge are taking place in the framework of a
competence-based curriculum, and when effective support schemes for schools in the field of curriculum
design are developed.
Four of the researches that were conducted in the last 15 years are relevant for the topic at hand, as
they manage to give an authentic perspective on the schooling institution.
Among these, the most in-depth and wide-ranging analysis is provided by
community that processes new informations and transforms them or not in attitudes and behaviours"
(Vlăsceanu, 2002: 77). Another study,
interactions between the significant educational stakeholders, teachers and students, and identifies
patterns of behaviour of students and teachers that are the result of these interactions. The research on the
Analysis of the School Environment in Relation to the Implementation of the Curriculum Reform
(Analiza mediului școlar în raport cu implementarea reformei curriculare) advocates an evidence-based
approach to decision making when dealing with the elements that define the organizational culture of the
school and the motivations that underpin student and teacher learning (Iosifescu, 2012). Finally, a
research on curriculum implementation at school level,
that influence the process of curriculum implementation at school and classroom level, and the ways in
which educational actors relate to these factors. These studies offer a multilayered image of the
perceptions and representations of various educational actors on what is actually taking place in schools.
The findings of these studies can be regarded as evidence of the changes that occur at school level in the
process of transformation from an organization focused on the learning as a product to an organization
focused on learning as a process (Păun, 1999). The final result is a school that learns and reshapes itself
as an organization (Senge, Cambron-Mccabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton & Kleiner, 2016).
Since the research included also an instrumental aspect, its second phase aimed at supporting the
transformation of the curriculum design at school level into a local curriculum policy, therefore aiming at
increasing the localised aspect of the curriculum at school level. The main element in this transformation
is the co-operation between teachers, the use of common competencies that are spread throughout the
learning community, and the fostering of the feeling of ownership that might mobilise resources in
confronting stressful situations and issues.
The questionnaire used in the four schools included 14 questions, developed around three vectors:
to identify examples of practices in the field of curriculum design, and to present the means by which
these practices are formalized in the documents; to assess the activities and practices of curriculum
design; and to reflect upon the practices presented.
One of the questions asked specifically to evaluate the positive aspects of curriculum design at
school level in relation to: supporting students in their autonomous learning; a stimulating and friendly
learning climate; the cohesion among staff in co-operating for a creative implementation of the
curriculum; enhancing the partnership between the school, the family, and the local community;
supporting the development of teaching materials at school level; a better integration of formal, informal
and non-formal elements in the teaching; the decrease in the differences between students' performance;
the decrease and or avoidance of school drop-out. The questions enabled not only a stocktaking of current
practices, but also an analysis of attitudes of schools as communities of practice towards the activities
related to the curriculum design and their interest in this activity.
From Evidences to Indicators
The research aimed at collecting data to demonstrate differences and commonalities between four
schools in the process of curriculum implementation on the basis of the Methodological Framework.
Given the fact that the evidence describes important processes that are linked to the attainment of
objectives related to the curriculum implementation at school level, it constitutes a basis for the
development of process indicators. Such indicators are important because they enable a process analysis
and support the construction of improved rationales for curriculum implementation. At the same time,
they constitute a basis for dissemination of good practice, the development of recommendations, and can
inform decision making. (Scheerens, 1990; Porter, 1991). At school level, such indicators and their
descriptors can provide a "toolkit" for the strategic/controlled improvement; schools can develop into
learning communities able to self regulate and fine-tune their own development. Table
indicators resulting from the research.
The research on the reactions of schools as organizations to curricular changes is significant, since
these changes were based on a top-down approach. Even the local character, as it is formulated by the
schools through the school based curriculum, is regulated at national level through the National
Curriculum Framework. One of the results is that the support given to grass-roots initiatives and changes
is influenced by a number of factors, frequently of subjective nature. Therefore, various means to foster
the feeling of ownership are needed, both at individual and organizational level. One such possibility is to
develop, in partnership with the schools, documents and methodologies that inform and orient the process
of curriculum implementation, especially in situations in which the aim is to translate new ideas into new
educational practices, a situation that involves complex sense-making processes.
The research provided data that point to the following conclusions:
- There is evidence that demonstrate that the schools have a grasp of the ways in which the national
curriculum can be implemented at school level, the most frequent approach being curriculum adaptation
în order to suit local needs.
- The adaptation of the curriculum to local needs is facilitated by school structures that have
responsibilities in the field at school and or classroom level; one example is the didactic committee,
constituted by the teachers that teach the same subject or subjects in the same curricular area.
- Existing hurdles do not impede decisively on the opportunities and possibilities of curriculum
implementation at school level, and such problems are circumvented in various ways.
- The practices provided by the schools questionnaire have a different potential of transfer beyond the
particular school; they are dependent on a number of variables, such as the degree of awareness of the
issue, the creativity of teachers.
- Instruments such as process indicators that are based on research evidence about the things that
contribute to intended changes can help schools to make sure that they are advancing on the intended
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