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Website helping Arizona schools prep for Common Core

(AP Photo)

QUEEN CREEK, Ariz.-- When teachers here prepare lessons on the new Common Core standards, a website connects them with explanations, quizzes and other resources shared by dozens of school districts and charter schools.

After using these resources and adapting them for their students, teachers in the Queen Creek Unified School District can then upload their materials for others around Arizona to use.

For Perry Berry, the district's director of curriculum, participating in the Beyond Textbooks program saves time and money.

"One of the tough things for smaller districts is to have enough resources to develop good curriculum maps. It takes time and training," he said.

Queen Creek is among the 81 school districts and charter schools using Beyond Textbooks, built on a system developed in 2008 by the Vail Unified School District.

What started as Vail's solution to raising student achievement developed into a nonprofit online program operated by the district. Originally designed to share curriculum resources, Beyond Textbooks is increasingly focused on Common Core as districts and charter schools implement the standards.

"We wanted to digitize our process and not only digitize our curriculum framework but also create a collaborative space where people can share teaching resources," said Kevin Carney, executive director of Beyond Textbooks.

Arizona adopted the Common Core State Standards for kindergarten through high school in 2010, and school districts are required to have them implemented this school year. The standards are intended to create consistent instruction across states in math and language arts.

Participating districts and charter schools pay a per-student fee each year. Carney would only describe it as "nominal," but the Arizona School Boards Association has reported that it's around $7 per student.

"It's cheaper than if we had generated these resources on our own," said Berry with the Queen Creek Unified School District.

Participants receive access to a wiki that contains all of the Beyond Textbook materials. It contains more than 20,000 resources for teachers, including curriculum maps and calendars, Carney said.

"We are able to save quite a bit of money on textbooks because we no longer buy textbooks," he said.

Not all of the resources come from Vail teachers. Carney said that teachers from other districts and charter schools uploading their materials helps the Vail teachers as well.

Angela Grizzle, director of curriculum, instruction and achievement for the Benson Unified School District, said Beyond Textbooks provides a foundation.

"We're a small district, and so we have limited resources," Grizzle said. "And being a BT partner, we get all of the work that they've done in crosswalking the new standards."

Beyond Textbooks also provides professional development through webinars and sessions held around the state. Last year, 375 sessions trained more than 9,000 teachers, Carney said.

Berry said that the training has been helpful, particularly with the new Common Core standards on the horizon.

"It's a bunch of minds coming together to solve the problems that we are all trying to solve on our own," he said.

Carney said that the Common Core standards could lead to Beyond Textbooks expanding to other states.

"We are reasonably confident that by 2014-2015, Beyond Textbooks will be venturing outside Arizona," he said.

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