What Are the Core Learnings of Our School Program?
Prepared for the SSTA by Loraine Thompson Information Services Ltd.
SSTA Research Centre Report #99-10: 34 pages, $11
Table of Contents
Part I:  What is Core Curriculum?
The Origins of Core Curriculum
What Was Core Curriculum Intended to Be?
The Framework for Core Curriculum Initiatives and Perspectives
Development and Implementation of Core Curriculum Actualization of Core Curriculum
Part II: Developing a Policy on the Core Learnings of Our Education Program
What is the Board’s Role in Program Decisions?
Basic Skills for the Twenty-First Century
Outcomes of the Educational Program Local Decision-Making Within the Framework of Core Curriculum Reviewing the School Program
Appendix A: Criteria (Rubric) for Informational or Narrative Writing

This document: 

  • summarizes the major components of Core Curriculum;
  • summarizes a study done to collect public opinion about Core Curriculum;
  • discusses the role and responsibilities of boards of education regarding program decisions; and,
  • outlines some of the elements that boards of education may wish to include a policy on the educational program.
Questions for thought and discussion are provided throughout.  This document is intended to stimulate further discussion about boards’ responsibility concerning the educational program as well as to provide factual information.
Back to: Curriculum

The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use.
Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is  available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


At their 1997 convention, the members of the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association passed the following resolution:
That the SSTA, as a priority of 1998, engage in a dialogue with trustees, teachers, administrators, and parents to review and assess the implementation of the Core Curriculum in Saskatchewan.  The purposes of this review are intended to develop a response to the following questions:
  • Is the Core Curriculum appropriate for preparing students for life in the 21st century?
  • To what extent has the Core Curriculum been implemented?
  • What influence has the Core Curriculum had on teaching and learning in Saskatchewan?
  • This booklet has been designed in response to this resolution.  It has two parts.

    Part I:  What is Core Curriculum? describes the origins, development, implementation and ongoing adaptation of Core Curriculum.  This part of the booklet is intended to provide school trustees with background information about Core Curriculum.  It also includes questions so that school trustees can assess their personal knowledge about Core Curriculum and respond, as individuals and/or as a board, to the questions in the 1997 conference resolution.

    Part II:  Developing a Policy on the Core Learnings of Our Education Program identifies those components of the school program that fall within the mandate of boards of education.  It provides suggestions for developing board policy relating to these aspects of the educational program.

    Table of Contents

    Part I:  What is Core Curriculum?

    The Origins of Core Curriculum

    During the 1980s, Saskatchewan’s public education system underwent major change and reform.  This process came to be known as Directions.  Directions originated with a general concern by Saskatchewan educators about whether the curriculum in use at the time and students’ school experiences would adequately prepare young people for life in the twenty-first century.

    The Directions reforms included several conferences and reports.  Most significant among these was the report of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction.  (This Committee was also called the Curriculum and Instruction Review Committee.)  This Committee, which was comprised of 24 people representing educational institutions and the general public, met for three years, from 1981 to 1984.  In its final report,(1) the Curriculum and Instruction Review Committee provided 16 recommendations, including a proposed set of goals for education in Saskatchewan and a recommendation that a kindergarten to grade 12 Core Curriculum be developed for Saskatchewan schools.

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    What Was Core Curriculum Intended to Be?

    The Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction explained the need for common goals of education and a Core Curriculum thusly:

    The Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction provided only a very general overview of its vision for a Core Curriculum.  It also made recommendations about other factors that affect teaching and learning including resource centres, support services such as guidance and counselling, and in-service education for teachers.

    When the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction made its recommendations, Core Curriculum was simply one component in a comprehensive package of educational reforms.  However, over the years, many of the Committee’s other recommendations have faded and today many people talk about Directions and Core Curriculum as if they are one and the same.

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    The Framework for Core Curriculum

    After the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction finished its work, several other committees took over, fleshing out the original bare-bones outline of Core Curriculum.  The framework that eventually emerged was as follows.(3)

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    The Required Areas of Study

    The knowledge, skills and values that are essential for all students are included in the seven Required Areas of Study.   In the elementary and middle years, the school program includes all seven of these areas, but at the high school level, there is considerable flexibility and students may not experience all seven of the Required Areas of Study.  These are:

  • Arts Education
  • Health Education
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Physical Education
  • Science
  • Social Studies

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    The Common Essential Learnings

    The Common Essential Learnings (CELs) are intended to provide students with generic skills, processes, and values, which can be applied to a wide range of settings and situations.  They are intended to equip students for life beyond school, no matter what the student chooses to do.  The CELs are integrated into all Required Areas of Study.  There are six Common Essential Learnings:

  • Communication
  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Independent Learning
  • Numeracy
  • Personal and Social Values and Skills
  • Technological Literacy

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    The Adaptive Dimension

    The Adaptive Dimension allows teachers to make adjustments in approved educational programs to accommodate diversity in student learning needs.  It includes adjustments to curriculum, instruction and the learning environment to make the educational program relevant for all students.

    The Adaptive Dimension enables teachers to:

  • provide background knowledge or experience for a student when it is lacking;
  • provide program enrichment and/or extension when it is needed;
  • enhance student success and reduce the possibility of failure;
  • address students’ cultural needs;
  • increase curriculum relevance for students;
  • lessen discrepancies between student ability and achievement;
  • provide variety in learning materials including community resources; and,
  • maximize the students’ potential for learning.(4)

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    Locally-Developed Options

    Core Curriculum recognizes that priorities vary from one community to the next and so provides for locally-determined options.  Typically, these are courses such as religious education, Native studies or second language instruction that are relevant to the community, or locally-developed courses such as local history.

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    Initiatives and Perspectives

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, four more components of Core Curriculum were introduced.  These were Indian and Métis perspectives, gender equity, resource-based learning, and multicultural education.  Although these were not part of the original framework, they are today an integral part of Core Curriculum.  These components permeate all the other components of Core Curriculum and are referred to as initiatives and perspectives.

  • Indian and Métis perspectives are intended to:
  • Gender equity is intended to ensure that female and male students have equality of opportunity and of benefit.  Gender equity relates both to what is taught and the way that it is taught.  For example, in a gender equitable elementary language arts textbook, both girls and boys are shown doing a variety of activities such as sports, cooking, yard work, house cleaning, babysitting and paper routes.  Both are shown in a variety of roles such as being leaders and being followers.  In a gender equitable classroom, tasks are not separated by gender.  For example, during group work, boys and girls get an equal number of opportunities to be group leader and to be recorder.

  • Resource-based learning requires that instruction be based on a variety of print and non-print resources, not just a single textbook.  It is intended to simulate the real world where information comes in a variety of print and electronic formats, and users must constantly evaluate the quality and accuracy of the information they get.

  • Multicultural education is intended to foster understanding, acceptance, empathy and harmonious relations among people of various cultures.  It encourages students to view different cultures as a source of learning and enrichment.

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    Development and Implementation of Core Curriculum

    Since the mid-1980s, the “dime” model has been used to develop new curricula for the Core program.  The phases in this model are:

  • development – writing and piloting the curriculum;
  • implementation – delivering the curriculum to students;
  • maintenance – keeping the curriculum up to date; and,
  • evaluation – determining whether the curriculum has met its goals and been implemented as intended.



    Each of these phases in development and implementation is discussed in more detail below.

    Table of Contents


    Since the 1980s, Saskatchewan Education has been involved in the mammoth task of rewriting all Kindergarten to Grade 12 curricula to be consistent with the parameters of Core Curriculum.  At the present time, this task is close to completion.  Only a few curricula remain to be rewritten.

    Curricula are typically written by teachers who have been seconded for this task.  Sometimes there is an advisory committee of educators and academics.

    Some curricula are completely “made in Saskatchewan” products.  For others, learning outcomes (the knowledge, skills and abilities that students are expected to have upon completion of the curriculum) are developed jointly with the rest of Canada or the western provinces.

    The Western Canadian Protocol(5) is an agreement among Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories to collaborate on a number of Kindergarten to Grade 12 projects including the development of common curriculum frameworks with learning outcomes in subjects such as mathematics, language arts and international languages.  The Pan-Canadian Protocol(6) is a similar agreement among all the provinces and territories.

    Piloting is part of the development of most curricula.  Piloting means that the curriculum is “tried out” on students of the appropriate age and grade before it is finalized.

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    Although the provincial government specifies the content that is to be taught, school divisions are responsible for actually implementing the curriculum, and for ensuring that students’ classroom experiences reflect the intent of the written curricula.

    Saskatchewan Education supports implementation by providing a limited amount of inservice for
    teachers and by providing lists of resource materials to support the curriculum.  However, school divisions are responsible for ensuring that the intended learning outcomes are achieved.

    This is of particular concern to boards of education, because in recent years, many new curricula, developed as part of the Core Curriculum program have been released.  New curricula often mean that teachers have to learn new content and new instructional methods.  New curricula also mean that boards of education must allocate funds for the purchase of books, audiovisual materials, other equipment, and for teacher inservice.

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    During the maintenance stage of curriculum development, the emphasis is on keeping curricula and related documents up-to-date. This involves revising older curricula and lists of resource materials, updating administrative bulletins, etc.

    Most of the maintenance activity is accomplished through the Evergreen Curriculum.(7)  The Evergreen Curriculum is a website maintained by Saskatchewan Education.  More than 60 curriculum guides are on-line at this website along with bibliographies and other supplementary materials.  The Evergreen Curriculum also provides discussion groups for various subject areas and links to other relevant websites.

    The curricula and other materials on this website are “Evergreen” in that they can be updated without the complications and expense associated with printing and mailing.

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    Saskatchewan’s Provincial Curriculum Evaluation Program evaluates new curricula.  Under this program, specific curricula are reviewed to determine whether the goals of the curriculum are being achieved and whether new curricula are being implemented as intended.  To date, the areas that have been assessed are Grade 1-5 Science (1993), Grades 7, 8 and 9 Health (1994), Grades 5, 8 and 11 Mathematics (1995), Grades 7, 8 and 9 Social Studies (1995), and Grades 1-9 Arts Education (1998).

    Two student evaluation programs provide indirect information about curriculum effectiveness.  They are:

  • Provincial Learning Assessment Program (PLAP) - In this program, the achievement of Grade 5, 8 and 11 students in mathematics and English language arts is assessed.  These two subject areas are assessed in alternate years:  math in 1995, 1997 and 1999; English language arts in 1994, 1996 and 1998.
  • School Achievement Indicators Program (SAIP), Council of Ministers of Education Canada - This national program examines the achievement of Canadian 13- and 16-year-olds in selected subject areas.  The evaluations published to date have been in science (1996), mathematics (1993 and 1997) and language arts (1994 and 1998).



    These student evaluation programs provide useful information about the effectiveness of Saskatchewan curricula only if the test is based on Saskatchewan curriculum objectives.  That is, if students are tested on what the Saskatchewan curriculum says they are supposed to be learning.

    In the provincial PLAP program, there is a loose fit between student tests and Saskatchewan curriculum objectives.  In the national SAIP program, tests are established independent of the curricula for any specific province, so there may or may not be alignment between specific tests and what Saskatchewan curricula say students should learn.

    Although Saskatchewan Education evaluates the effectiveness of individual curricula, neither Saskatchewan Education nor any other agency has examined the overall effectiveness of Core Curriculum – whether it is being developed and implemented as intended, what changes have been made to the original plan and what its effects on teaching and learning have been.

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    Opinion about Core Curriculum

    As one very small step toward filling this gap, the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association, in fall 1998, contracted the Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit (SIDRU) at the University of Regina to gather opinions about the following questions:(8)

    1. What is Core Curriculum?  What are the purposes of Core Curriculum?
    2. Do you think Core Curriculum prepares students for life in the 21st century?  What do you think Core Curriculum does for students?  Do you think students are learning what they need to know to be successful?
    3. What evidence do you see that Core Curriculum is being implemented?
    4. Please give some examples of changes you have noticed in (1) teaching, and  (2) student learning that you believe can be attributed to Core Curriculum.

    SIDRU interviewed four trustees, four teachers, four parents and three school administrators.  This is a very small number of interviews, thus the responses may not be representative of the public as a whole.  However, the findings of this study do suggest that:

  • The more knowledge that people have about the philosophy and framework of Core Curriculum the more likely they are to be positive about it.
  • Core Curriculum is not evenly implemented across the province and implementation activity varies greatly from school to school.
  • Individual teachers play a very important role in implementation.



    The findings of the study may be summarized as follows:

  • Parents - Parents had neither a clear idea of what Core Curriculum is, nor what its purposes are. Their opinions about the purpose of Core seemed to be based largely on their own experiences of school.



    Three of the four parents interviewed did not believe that what their children are learning in school is adequately preparing them for life in the 21st century.  However, these parents held contrasting views as to why this is so.  One parent believed that a return to common textbooks would ensure that all students learn fundamentals.  Another parent believed more attention should be given to English and math.  A third approved of the Core Curriculum, especially the Common Essential Learnings, but he did not believe the present structure of schools supports such learnings.  A fourth believed Core Curriculum is preparing her children for the 21st century and was especially pleased they are learning to think critically.

    Two parents responded to the question about evidence of the implementation of Core Curriculum with a simple, I see no evidence.

    One parent thought that if Core Curriculum is being successfully implemented, then all students would be able to do certain age-appropriate tasks – the tasks specified by the curriculum guide.  She then went on to say, …  But what that measuring stick says and what is actually happening – there is a huge, huge variance.  They are not able to do the things that the curriculum says a Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4 [student] is supposed to be able to do.  Why not?  I don’t know.

    A fourth parent saw evidence of the implementation of Core Curriculum in the learning processes her children are engaged in at school, When I see how [my kids] are learning language arts, it’s really different.  It’s a much more integrated approach.

    When asked about changes that can be attributed to Core Curriculum, three of the four parents either noticed no changes or did not approve of the changes they saw. One parent thought that the existing school structures do not allow teachers to be creative.  This parent said, What happens is you end up teaching the same stuff year in, year out, because its convenient … it fits into the 10-month school year and the grade system.  And as long as you have that, I don’t think the Common Essential Learnings are going to happen in schools.  Another parent thought that teachers are not creating a school environment that enhances learning.  A third thought Core Curriculum has caused teachers to lose the focus of the lessons they are teaching, and thus basic information is not being consistently taught to students.  A fourth parent was optimistic about the changes she has observed in her children’s learning.  Although she was not sure what changes have occurred in teaching, she notes that her children are learning to be more critical thinkers.

  • Trustees - Trustees said the purposes of Core Curriculum are to provide a common curriculum throughout the province, to offer students a resource-based approach to learning, and to encourage development of the Common Essential Learnings.



    Three of four trustees interviewed believed that  Saskatchewan students will be prepared for life in the 21st century.  They highlighted the appropriateness of the Common Essential Learnings.  Trustees suggested that students who are flexible and skilled in critical thinking and creative problem solving will find these skills appropriate for life in the 21st century.  A fourth trustee sounded a cautionary note.  While he agreed with the principles of Core Curriculum, including the Common Essential Learnings, he wondered whether existing educational structures are adequate for their enactment.

    Three trustees cited examples of change they have noted in student behaviour as evidence of the implementation of Core.  They mentioned that resource-based learning, in particular, is improving students’ research skills and ability to work cooperatively. A fourth trustee suggested it is difficult to assess a provincial level of implementation when much teaching goes on behind classroom doors and inservice has been very uneven throughout the province.

    In regard to changes in teaching and learning due to Core Curriculum, trustees stressed the importance of the teacher’s role. One trustee suggested that, while he believes teachers are committed to developing their students’ potential, more attention needs to be paid to professional development.  Inservice sessions need to be more focused on challenging teachers to change their approach to teaching.  A typical comment was, You can take almost any component of the curriculum and do great and wonderful things with it.  A lot will depend on that individual teacher, that human being, and how creative and … driven they are to prepare things for their students.

  • Teachers - Teachers had differing perceptions of what Core Curriculum is.  These perceptions included:
  • One teacher said that the effectiveness of Core Curriculum depends on how the teacher uses instructional strategies to make the Required Areas of Study and the Common Essential Learnings meaningful in the classroom.

    Teachers’ opinions as to whether students will be prepared for life in the 21st century largely reflected their classroom situations.  High school and middle years teachers were positive about their students’ futures, citing changes in teaching approaches and strategies, and the integration of technology into all areas of study as reasons for their optimism.  A Grade 2 teacher was reluctant to make statements about the future, believing that teaching is grounded in the here and now.

    On the whole, teachers perceived evidence of implementation of Core in changes they noted in their own teaching and in student learning.  One teacher said the Common Essential Learnings are very much a part of the teaching and learning environment in both her classroom and the school where she teaches.  Another pointed to colleagues who are willing to experiment with new and different approaches and to an increase in student interaction as evidence.  A third noted that, under the impetus of Core Curriculum, students are encouraged to take initiative and are given more freedom, allowing them to be more creative.

    Teachers also noted that individual teachers play a major role in implementing Core, for example, … children are all different and you have to be able to be flexible to incorporate all their needs.  I think the Core Curriculum has that flexibility, but I do think that the teacher has to be very much a facilitator of the curriculum and work within it.

    Teachers noted that Core Curriculum has encouraged them to bring more resources into the classroom, to recognize the complexity of the teaching/learning process, and to place the student first and foremost, relying on the curriculum as a guide.  These changes have not been without price, however.  All teachers noted the increased workload and the sense of being overwhelmed at times. One teacher said, … you are overwhelmed by the amount of potential material … print material, and you are inundated …, it’s almost overwhelming … how do you decide what is best?  One teacher even admitted that her confidence is shaken, wondering if she is creative enough for today’s teaching and wanting some assurance that she is “doing the right thing.”  Teachers also noted there have been changes in student learning.  Students are now more active and involved in their own learning.

  • School Administrators - School administrators (principals and vice-principals) responded to questions about the purpose of Core Curriculum by reflecting back to the origins of this curriculum.  One administrator referred back to the Directions report, which talked about the educational environment, how education is supported, student needs, and school improvement.  Thus, Core Curriculum, in this administrator’s view, includes setting goals and working together for student learning at the local level.  To another school administrator, Core Curriculum is about a liberal education grounded in progressive methods and trying to achieve a balance in all aspects of education.  To a third, Core Curriculum is a mindset, not just what is taught but how it is taught.



    School administrators uniformly said that Core Curriculum is preparing students for life in the 21st century.  They cited Core Curriculum’s emphasis on independent learning, its acknowledgement that learning is life long, and its emphasis on attitudes and processes as reasons for their optimism.  They applauded the aspects of Core Curriculum that encourage students to become good citizens with an appreciation for the arts and cultural diversity.

    School administrators provided both direct and indirect evidence of the implementation of Core Curriculum.  They noted that school staffs are demanding a variety of current resources, indicating an increase in resource-based learning.  Demands for computer soft- and hardware have also increased, indicating technological literacy is a priority in many classrooms.  School administrators have observed teachers using a variety of instructional strategies and students taking a more active role in their education.  One administrator cautioned that, at present, implementation is very much a broken front, depending on the leadership within individual schools.

    Administrators also talked about the future of implementation.  They emphasized the importance of educating parents and the public about present and future changes to schooling.  They suggested that nostalgia about the past ? a past that never really was ? might be the biggest obstacle to implementation of Core Curriculum for parents and even for educators.  As one administrator said, What’s holding us back so much … in terms of real meaningful change, is nostalgia. So many of our parents, and ourselves, are being driven by nostalgia.  We are very reluctant to give up anything that’s working well.  …  If you are getting by, if you’re successful doing direct instruction, and people are generally happy, why change?

    Administrators said that the positive changes they have observed in teaching and learning ? such as the increased variety of instructional strategies used by teachers, the placement of students at the centre of learning, and the increased involvement of students in their own education ? can only be sustained if teachers continue to embrace the instructional strategies associated with Core Curriculum.  If this occurs, more caring relationships between students and teachers will continue to flourish and students will connect to learning in a more positive fashion. The benefit that is derived from Core Curriculum is directly proportional to the level that the teacher embraces, and I think that there is more emphasis upon caring relationships between teachers and students and between students and students.

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    Actualization of Core Curriculum

    Development and implementation of new curricula for all the Required Areas of Study is near completion and curriculum is now primarily in a maintenance phase.  Therefore, in 1998, the provincial focus shifted away from curriculum development toward actualization of Core Curriculum.  “The term actualization refers to full implementation and ongoing renewal of Core Curriculum.”  Actualization includes,

    Saskatchewan Education, in cooperation with other Saskatchewan educational organizations, has developed a policy framework for actualization of Core Curriculum.  It is intended that, “the partners in education work from this framework to make their own plans, according to their mandates, in order that Saskatchewan’s school programs result in all students attaining the Goals of Education.”(10)  It is also intended that the framework for actualization be interpreted and brought to life within the context of individual schools and communities.

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    Part II: Developing a Policy on the Core Learnings of Our Education Program

    What is the Board’s Role in Program Decisions?

    “What do we want our students to know, to be able to do and to be like?”  Increasingly Saskatchewan boards of education are asking this question.  They are considering the knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes they want students to develop.

    In the past, Saskatchewan Education developed curricula which were then implemented at the classroom level.  Traditionally, boards of education have had little input either into creating the framework that describes what students are to learn or into determining how that framework is implemented in classrooms.

    However, The Education Act does give boards of education considerable control over the school program.  For example:

    85(1) … a board of education shall:

    (j) subject to the regulations, authorize and approve the courses of instruction that constitute the instructional program for each school in the school division.

    87(1) … a board of education may:

    (f) subject to the regulations, approve textbooks and other learning resource material and teacher reference.

    176(2) With the approval of the minister a board of education or a conseil scolaire may authorize the implementation of a course of study that has been developed within the school division or the francophone education area for use in any of the schools in the school division or the francophone education area, and that course may be recognized for credit purposes in accordance with the regulations.

    179     A board of education or a conseil scolaire may authorize the organization of cultural and athletic activities, youth travel, outdoor education and similar activities as features of the educational program of the schools.(11)

    Saskatchewan boards of education often do not develop policies on the educational program. Although there are policies on a wide variety of topics ranging from busing, to parent and community involvement, to crisis response, there are few which specifically address the school program ? few which respond to questions about the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students should develop or to questions about the type of experiences that students would have during their schooling.

    However, many boards of education are taking a second look at this traditional approach and are suggesting that the board’s policy leadership role appropriately includes developing and implementing policies about the school program.  They are suggesting that the board’s role extends to setting policy for the school program for two reasons:

    1. Boards of education wish to have authority as well as responsibility for the school program -  Although Saskatchewan Education develops curricula, boards of education are responsible for implementing the program of studies.  Boards are responsible for providing teachers, facilities, books, computers and other resources needed to deliver the program.  They are also responsible for the overall quality and effectiveness of the education that students receive.  Addressing the school program through policy is one way that boards can have authority as well as responsibility for this very important item.

    2. Boards of education wish to exercise their local decision-making opportunities provided by Core Curriculum - Core Curriculum provides a foundation of basic learnings for all students, but it also allows some decisions about the school program to be made locally.

    There are at least four different topics that boards of education may wish to address in their policies on the school program.  These topics are:

  • basic skills for the 21st century
  • outcomes of the educational program
  • local decision making within the context of Core Curriculum
  • reviewing the school program



    Each of these topics is discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.  The sections that follow focus primarily on the content of a board policy on the school program.  For detailed information on the process of developing a policy refer to Policy Leadership published by the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association.

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    Basic Skills for the Twenty-First Century

    Boards of education may want to begin their policy on the school program with an outline of basic skills for the 21st century.

    The world is changing dramatically.  In the late 1970s, computers were in their infancy, there was no Internet, the economy was expanding rather than contracting, the Canadian dollar was equal to the U.S. dollar.  We can anticipate that the world will change just as much in the years ahead.

    Although no one knows for sure, the future will probably include:

  • growing disparity between haves and have-nots;
  • more jobs in service industries and technology and fewer in farming and resource-based industries;
  • increasing unemployment and part-time work;
  • rapid changes in technology;
  • increasing global competition; and,
  • an economy that continues to shrink.

  • The goal of the education system must be to prepare students for the world as it will be 10, 20 or 30 years in the future, not for the world as it is today or the world as it was yesterday.

    Identifying basic skills for the 21st century is an activity in which the whole community can become engaged.  This interesting task is a good vehicle to promote positive community involvement in school activities.  It is particularly important that students participate in this activity, because their vision of the future and of what they need for success in adult life may be very different from that of their parents.

    Many different lists of basic skills for the 21st century have been developed.  Those lists all emphasize the importance of reading skills, computer skills and the ability to work with others.
    Skills for the 21st Century – American School Board Journal
      The American School Board Journal(12) says that basic skills for the 21st century are: 
      • Read at the 9th grade level
      • Mastery of fractions, decimals, and graphs
      • Ability to solve problems in which hypotheses must be formed and tested
      • Ability to work in groups
      • Communicate effectively
      • Use personal computers
    Skills for the 21st Century – Eston-Elrose School Division

    The Eston-Elrose School Division(13) identified the following student outcomes as being appropriate to enable all students to meet the challenges of a changing world. 

    Our students will be: 

    Quality Workers, who

    • Consistently produce quality products that achieve their purposes.
    • Initiate and follow through to task completion.
    • Apply the best possible resources, technologies and organization strategies to the task.
    • Continually assess, evaluate and adjust to maintain excellence.
    Community Contributors, who
    • Provide time, energy and talent to improve the welfare of others in the local and larger community.
    • Demonstrate consideration for individual differences.
    • Employ participatory skills necessary to be an effective group member.
    Complex/Critical Thinkers, who
    • Develop a range of thinking skills or abilities.
    • Display significant reasoning and problem-solving skills.
    • Select thinking processes appropriate to the resolution of a complex issue.
    Effective Communicators, who
    • Convey thoughts, feelings and/or benefits to others with fluency and clarity.
    • Consider the thoughts, feelings and/or beliefs of others.
    Self-Directed Learners, who
    • Set priorities and achievable goals.
    • Take responsibility for actions.
    • Develop and implement a plan for self-improvement and learning.
    • Apply learning to a new situation of their own.
    Skills for the 21st Century – Core Curriculum 

    The Common Essential Learnings define the basic skills that students will need in the future.  The Six Common Essential Learnings(14) are: 

    • Communication 
    • Critical and Creative Thinking 
    • Independent Learning 
    • Numeracy 
    • Personal and Social Values and Skills 
    • Technological Literacy 

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    Outcomes of the Educational Program

    A school board policy on the educational program might include guidelines for student outcomes.  It might respond to the question, “What do we want our students to know, be able to do, and be like?”

    The curriculum guides and accompanying activity guides and bibliographies developed by Saskatchewan Education typically provide many ideas for the way that Foundational Objectives can be achieved.  There is often considerable room for individual teachers to select content and activities that reflect their own teaching styles as well as students’ needs and interests.

    A board policy on desired outcomes of the educational program would provide direction for teachers so they can select content, learning activities and classroom management techniques that reflect the board’s priorities for the educational program.

    Three important elements of the educational program are:

  • Knowledge - What do we want our students to know?
  • Skills - What do we want our students to be able to do?
  • Attitudes and Behaviours - What do we want our students to be like?



    These three elements of the educational program are discussed in the sections that follow.

    A school board policy on the school program can appropriately contain sections on each of these three elements of the educational program.  The checklist below may be helpful when making decisions about specific components of the educational program.
    Making Decisions About the Educational Program
  • How does this activity support system goals? 
  • What percentage of students are served by this activity? (Remember, the majority of students do not go to university.) 
  • Did parents, students and school staff have a voice in selecting this activity? 
  • How will this activity enrich students’ personal lives? 
  • How will this activity make students better community members? 
  • How will this activity help students get and keep a job? 
  • What long-term benefits does this activity have? 
  • How does this activity relate to the basic skills needed for the 21st century? 

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    What Do We Want Our Students to Know?

    What are students expected to know?

    A policy on the school program might include a section on the knowledge that students are expected to acquire.  When developing this section of the policy, some boards may choose to critically examine aspects of the existing program and to assess the extent to which the program reflects the requirements of everyday life and the workplace.  For example:
    What Kind of Reading Skills Do Graduates Need?
    Reading done by most adults:
  • Technical manuals 
  • Safety codes 
  • Tax forms and other government forms 
  • Newspapers and magazines 
  • Computer screens 
  • Letters from government departments and businesses 
  • Maps 
  • Printed information in television ads and news programs 
  • Reading done in school: 
  • Poetry 
  • Short stories 
  • Novels 
  • Non-fiction (biography, historical 

  • writing, etc.) 
    What Kind of Communication Skills Do Graduates Need?

    What communication skills are used in life?

    Listening - 43% 
    Speaking - 27% 
    Writing - 17% 
    Reading - 13%

    What communication skills are taught?



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    What level of knowledge are students expected to have?

    Most people would agree that students need to be able to write adequately.  But there might be great disagreement over the definition of “adequately”.  Two teachers, when grading the same piece of student work, might give it very different marks, because they have different standards or different ideas of what constitutes “adequate”.

    For this reason, it may be appropriate to include precise descriptions of expectations in school board policy.  This can be done by using rubrics.  A rubric is a description of performance of a task at several achievement levels.  For example, most parents expect their children to keep their rooms clean, but may get into lengthy and heated discussions with their offspring about the definition of “clean”.  A rubric such as the one on the next page might help solve the argument.
    Rubric for Cleaning Your Room
    Level 4
  • All clean clothes are hung up or folded neatly in the drawers. 
  • All dirty clothes are in the laundry hamper. 
  • Shoes are placed neatly in pairs inside closet. 
  • Books are placed on bookshelves. 
  • Wastepaper basket is emptied. 
  • All school work is in desk drawers. 
  • Floor is scrubbed or vacuumed. 
  • Furniture is dusted. 
  • Bed linens are changed. 
  • Bed is made neatly, surface is smooth, corners are neat. 
  • Floor surface is completely clear of stuff. 
  • Dirty dishes are returned to the kitchen. 
  • There are no papers or food wrappers on the floor. 
  • Desktop is clear except for calendar and pens. 
  • Level 3
  • Most clean clothes are hung up. 
  • Most dirty clothes are in the laundry hamper. 
  • Floor surface is almost clear of stuff. 
  • Bed is made neatly. 
  • Bed linens are not changed. 
  • Most books have been returned to the shelves. 
  • Floor is scrubbed or vacuumed. 
  • A little bit of dusting is done. 
  • There are no papers or food wrappers on the floor. 
  • Dirty dishes are returned to the kitchen. 
  • Desktop has a large, clear working area. 
  • Most shoes are in the closet.
  • Level 2
  • Some clean clothes are hung up, some dirty clothes are in the hamper.  There are still some clothes and shoes under the bed. 
  • Bed is made but lumpy. 
  • Papers/food wrappers that were lying on the floor are thrown in wastepaper basket. 
  • Dirty dishes are returned to the kitchen. 
  • Most of the floor area is clear of stuff. 
  • There is a small space to work on the desk. 
  • Dusting is not done. 
  • Floor is not scrubbed or vacuumed. 
  • Books and school work are in piles around the room. 
  • Bed linens are not changed. 
  • Level 1
  • Most clothes and shoes that were lying on the floor are pushed under the bed or moved to the closet floor. 
  • Bedspread is pulled up over bed, surface is lumpy. 
  • Papers/food wrappers that were lying on the floor are thrown in the wastepaper basket. 
  • Dirty dishes are returned to the kitchen. 
  • There is a clear path from the door to the bed. 
  • No vacuuming or dusting are done. 
  • Bed linens are not changed. 
  • Books and school work are strewn around. 
  • Desktop is covered with papers. 
  • Rubrics can be developed for virtually any subject area or any task. A rubric for informational or narrative writing appears in Appendix A.

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    What Do We Want Our Students to Be Able to Do?

    Preparing students for competence in everyday life and in the world of work are important goals of the education system.  These goals are realized only if students can apply what they have learned in a practical, real-life situation.  For this reason, some boards of education may wish to include statements about what students should be able to do in their school program policy.

    Testing whether students are able to apply their knowledge means giving them a real-life task to do, rather than a pencil and paper test.  This approach to assessment is known as performance assessment.

    Performance assessment is used in sports.  For example, we assess a hockey player’s ability to hit the net by putting her on the ice with a stick in her hand, not by asking her to do a multiple-choice test on stickhandling skills.  We assess a figure skater’s ability to jump by watching him on the ice, not by asking him to critique another skater’s performance.

    Examples of performance assessments in a school situation include:
    Expected Knowledge Pencil-and-Paper Test Performance Assessment
    Ability to calculate the volume of a cube Students are given the dimensions of a cube and asked to calculate the volume. Students are given tape measures and boxes of cereal and are told to calculate the volume of the box of cereal.
    Ability to solve math calculations Students are given the math problem and asked to select the correct answer from five multiple-choice answers. Students are given the math problem and asked to calculate (with or without the use of calculators) the correct answer. 
    Ability to analyze a short story Students are asked a number of multiple-choice questions about the story. Students are given a theme and asked to write a critique of the short story based on the theme.

    Performance assessments are most often used in conjunction with rubrics.  Students are provided with a rubric beforehand and with examples of performance or work at each of the levels on the rubric.  Then they know exactly what they have to do to achieve at the highest level and to get a good mark.

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    What Do We Want Our Students to Be Like?

    Schooling is intended to develop students’ academic abilities and skills; it also has the potential to develop certain personal characteristics - to determine what our children are like as human beings.  There is little disagreement about some of these characteristics; for example, most people would agree that schools should foster politeness.  However, there is less agreement about other characteristics.  Should schools foster competition or cooperation?  Should they try to produce independent thinkers or students who follow orders?  Should they support risk-taking or should they emphasize playing it safe and never making mistakes?  Should they cultivate distinct gender roles and different expectations for female and male students or should schooling be gender blind?

    Boards of education, in their policy on the school program, may want to include descriptions of what they want their students to be like - of the behaviours and attitudes they want to cultivate in students.

    When considering what we want our students to be like, there are two points to address:  what is taught in the school and the nature of students’ experience at school.  Each of these points is discussed separately below.

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    The content of the school program

    Behaviour and attitudes are rarely directly taught in school and seldom formally assessed.  Some of the Common Essential Learnings reflect behaviour and attitudes, but the framework of Core specifies that these are to be taught within the context of academic subjects and are not to be assessed apart from the subject areas.

    It is possible to directly teach interpersonal skills such as conflict resolution, courtesy, and starting and maintaining a conversation using demonstration, role playing, feedback and practice.

    It is also possible to evaluate these behaviours using observation and rubrics.

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    The nature of students’ school experiences

    Students learn through direct instruction, but they also learn through example.  They imitate their teacher’s behaviour and treat others as they are treated.  For example, a child who is always given extremely detailed instructions on how to do tasks and punished for taking initiative will probably grow up to follow orders and not take chances.   A child who is told the desired outcomes for a project and asked to figure out the best way of achieving these outcomes will probably be much more capable of taking the initiative.  Similarly, children whose schools are intensely competitive will come to see competition as natural; those whose schools emphasize cooperation will see cooperation as natural.

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    Local Decision-Making Within the Framework of Core Curriculum

    Core Curriculum prescribes basic required learnings for all students, but also allows for at least three different types of local decision making:

  • the adaptive dimension;
  • locally-determined options; and,
  • high school electives.

  • The board of education’s role in setting policy for each of these three areas is discussed below.

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    The Adaptive Dimension

    The Adaptive Dimension is an important part of Core Curriculum.  It is the concept of making adjustments in approved educational programs to accommodate diversity in student learning needs.  It includes those practices the teacher undertakes to make curriculum, instruction and the learning environment meaningful and appropriate for each student.(16)

    Students who often benefit from an adapted program include those with physical or learning disabilities, those who are gifted, those who are slow learners, those who have behaviour disorders, and students whose cultural background differs from the mainstream.

    Under the Adaptive Dimension, the Foundational Objectives of a course are not changed, but changes can be made to curriculum and evaluation, instruction and learning environment.  This means that students are still expected to achieve the basic knowledge and skills outlined in the curriculum, but that teachers may make adaptations like those described below:

  • Curriculum and Evaluation
  • Instruction
  • Learning Environment
  • A policy on the school program could appropriately contain a statement supporting the adaptive dimension.  Such a statement would give teachers and school administrators direction and encouragement to adapt instruction so that all students can succeed.

    The policy might also include a statement that encourages teachers to share their adapted lesson plans and directs school administrators to facilitate this type of sharing through both informal and formal sessions.

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    Locally-Determined Options

    Core Curriculum makes provision for Locally-Determined Options to gain time for local or community program priorities.

    Locally-Determined Options are usually courses specific to the community like a local history course or courses that reflect the nature of the community, for example, a religious studies course, a course in Ukrainian music, a course in a First Nations’ language, etc.  Locally-Determined Options can be provided by selecting provincially-developed courses or by developing courses locally.  Locally-developed courses must be approved by Saskatchewan Education.

    A school board policy on the educational program can appropriately include a description of the process that is used to select locally-determined options.  It could describe the roles of students, parents, community members, educators and the board.  It could also list the individuals or groups that have responsibility for making specific decisions.

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    High School Electives

    Core Curriculum prescribes a core of compulsory courses that all high school students must take, but also allows for electives – courses chosen by the students themselves.  Most high schools try to offer a range of electives, so students can choose courses that interest them or fit in with their career plans.

    A policy on the educational program could contain a description of the process that is used to choose the electives that are offered by individual schools.  The policy might describe how student and parent interest in particular courses is assessed and the roles of teachers, school principal and the board in making decisions about electives to be offered.

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    Reviewing the School Program

    From time to time, boards of education may wish to review the school program to answer questions such as:

  • What progress have we made during the past five years?
  • How are we progressing with implementation of Core Curriculum?
  • Where are we in terms of providing students with the skills they need for the 21st century?

  • It is important that a board policy on the school program gives the board a mandate to conduct regular reviews of the school program.  Such a policy:

  • sends a signal to the school and community that school program review is an important matter;
  • ensures that the school program is reviewed regularly at specified intervals, not on an ad hoc basis; and,
  • provides guidelines for conducting the review, so that the manner in which it is carried out is consistent from one year to the next.

  • Developing a policy on review of the school program is particularly timely as the focus for Core Curriculum changes from development to actualization.  Actualization involves full implementation and ongoing renewal of Core Curriculum.  Actualization is designed to occur within the context of individual schools and communities.  Thus, the shape that Core Curriculum actualization takes will vary from one school division to another.

    The first step in Core Curriculum actualization for any school division is taking stock of where the educational program is right now.  Knowing what the present situation is will make it easier for boards of education to identify the gaps between current and ideal practice and focus on the actions that will lead to full actualization of Core Curriculum.

    A policy on review of the school program might include:

  • A description of the board’s leadership role in reviewing the school program.
  • A description of the process that will be used to plan the review:

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    1. Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction Review.  (1984).  Directions:  The final report.  Regina, SK:  Saskatchewan Education.
    2. Minister’s Advisory Committee on Curriculum and Instruction Review.  (1984).  Directions:  The final report.  Regina, SK:  Saskatchewan Education, pp. 44-45.
    3. For a detailed description of Core Curriculum see Saskatchewan Education.  (1997).  Core Curriculum:  An information bulletin for administrators.  Regina, SK:  Author.
    4. Saskatchewan Education.  (1992).  Understanding the adaptive dimension in Core Curriculum.  Regina, SK:  Author.
    5. For general information about the Western Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education (Kindergarten to Grade 12), go to www.wcp.ca.
    For the text of the agreement itself, go to www.wcp.ca/general/wpagreement, html.
    6. For the text of the Pan-Canadian Protocol for Collaboration on School Curriculum go to www.cmec.ca/protocol-eng.htm.
    7. For general information about the Evergreen Curriculum go to www.Sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/about/index.html.
    To access the Evergreen Curriculum go to www.Sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/evergrn.html.
    8. Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit.  (1998).  Core Curriculum project.  Regina, SK:  University of Regina.
    9. Saskatchewan Education.  (1998).  Actualization of Core Curriculum.  Regina, SK:  Author, p. 2.
    10. Saskatchewan Education.  (1998). Actualization of Core Curriculum.  Regina, SK:  Author, p. 3.
    11. The Education Act, 1995, Chapter E-0.2 of The Statutes of Saskatchewan, 1995 (with amendments to 1999).
    12. American School Board Journal, April 1997.
    13. Eston-Elrose School Division #33 of Saskatchewan.  (1994).  Student learning improvement plan.
    14. Saskatchewan Education.  (1998). Understanding the Common Essential Learnings.  Regina, SK:  Author.
    15. Graphic and statistics provided by the SSTA.
    16. Saskatchewan Education.  (1992). The adaptive dimension in Core Curriculum.  Regina, SK:  Author.

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    Appendix A: Criteria (Rubric) for Informational or Narrative Writing
    Regina Board of Education Scoring Guide:  Informational Writing (adapted from the 1987 GED Testing Service Guide) 

    Upper-half papers make clear a definite purpose, pursued with varying degrees of effectiveness.  They also have a structure that shows evidence of some deliberate planning.  The writer’s control of the conventions of standard written English (spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice and sentence structure) ranges from fairly reliable at 4 to confident and accomplished at 6.

    The 6 paper offers sophisticated ideas within an organizational framework that is clear and appropriate for the genre of story.  Interesting and effective use is made of point of view, dialogue, or other narrative techniques.  Description is vivid and precise, creating a sense of voice, a mood or atmosphere.  Both language and storyline are fluent.  Particular conventions of standard English may not yet be mastered, but in general the use of conventions is correct.  In no case, however, would the few errors impede understanding. 

    The 5 paper is clearly organized with effective support for each of the writer’s major points.  The storyline is developed with substantive ideas, though it lacks the fluency and clarity of voice found in the 5 paper.  It uses dialogue and descriptive language much more extensively and effectively than a 4 paper does.  Although there are some errors, the conventions of standard English are consistently under control. 

    The 4 paper shows evidence of the writer’s organizational plan, even when listing of events is evident.  The plot line is adequate but mundane and lacks the extensive or effective support that is found in the 5 paper.  Dialogue, while present, is not incorporated into the descriptive language.  Simple modifiers such as adjectives and adverbs are used, and there may be simple embedding of subordinate clauses.  The writer generally observes the conventions of standard English.  The errors that are present are not severe enough to interfere significantly with the writer’s main purpose. 

    Lower-half papers either fail to convey a purpose sufficiently or lack one entirely.  Consequently, their structure ranges from rudimentary at 3, to random at 2, to absent at 1.  Control of the conventions of standard written English tends to follow this same gradient.

    The 3 paper usually shows some evidence of planning, although the development may be insufficient.  The storyline exists, but may be vague, and consists of a listing of events with little logical connections.  The connections between ideas are basic and strung together with then and so.  The 3 paper often demonstrates repeated weaknesses in the conventions of standard English. 

    The 2 paper is characterized by a marked lack of organization or inadequate support for ideas.  There may be a thread of a storyline, but not much more.  The development may be superficial or unfocused.  Voice is confused or unclear.  Errors in the conventions of standard English may seriously interfere with the overall effectiveness of this paper. 

    The 1 paper lacks purpose or development.  The storyline is absent, negligible or cannot be discerned.  The dominant feature is the absence of control of structure or the conventions of standard English.  The deficiencies are so severe that the writer’s ideas are difficult or impossible to understand. 

    Source: Pace, Sandra Falconer.  (1996).  Holistic marking and the development of system-wide standards for writing.  Query, 24(2).

    For more information on developing and using rubrics refer to Using Standards and Assessments to Support Student Learning published by the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association.

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