Even though the idea sounds simple, Carroll County school officials say their new approach is a radical change.
The catchword over the past few years is "outcomes," which refers to a list of skills and qualities that children should have at various levels.
The reasoning now is that educators should set goals for what children should learn by graduation, and then develop the curriculum so those goals will be met.
"It seems fairly simple," said Deputy Superintendent Brian Lockard. "You begin with the end in mind. From there, you design it down, or map it backward, all the way to grade school.
"We basically, in education, have done that in reverse," he said. For example, a school system would test children on what it taught them, rather than what they should know.
"It's something we should have been doing in education for years," he said.
The change will spawn several committees working over the next few years and the development of a new test that will measure whether children are meeting the outcomes.
During August, an 18-member committee of school administrators, teachers and parents will begin meeting to draft a list of six to eight broad outcomes.
They will be broad because other committees for each subject will get together to develop more specific outcomes for things such as social studies, reading, health and physical education, Mr. Lockard said.
The broad ones would be things such as "Children will be good communicators," Mr. Lockard said. The goals will be more philosophical than the specific ones to be developed later by subject specialists, he said.
The state already has a defined list of outcomes, measured every year by the new criterion-referenced tests given for the first time in May 1991 and for the second time this year.
Mr. Lockard said the local test would be similar to the state one, in that it will involve more group work and tasks than conventional written testing.
But the locally developed outcomes and test will place more emphasis than the state does on things such as communication and problem-solving skills, working together and the arts, Mr. Lockard said.
"We want to be sure we're dealing with the whole child," he said.
While such curriculum development may mean adding lessons that will teach children the agreed-upon skills and qualities, some things will have to be discarded if they don't contribute to the goals, Mr. Lockard said.
The 18-member Essential Curriculum Committee that will draft the broad outcomes will meet for half-day sessions Aug. 6, 7, 13, 14 and 24. The school system has invited teachers and business people to attend to provide their perspective.
For example, Mr. Lockard said, major employers may discuss what would make Carroll graduates more desirable employees.