What to know about PSD's newly approved literacy curricula for elementary schools

John Passantino, Poudre School District's director of curriculum, speaks to parents, teachers and others during an informational meeting on Jan. 23 at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins. The meeting focused on the three programs selected as finalists for a new elementary-school reading literacy program.

Poudre School District is adopting Imagine Learning’s EL Education K-5 literacy program for most of its elementary schools beginning next fall.

The program will cost the district more than $5.4 million for 10 years of use.

A separate literacy curriculum, Amplify CKLA Skills K-2, is being adopted for the district’s non-charter core-knowledge schools, costing the district $302,000 for five years. That program will supplement the Core Knowledge Foundation instructional program and materials already in place.

The PSD Board of Education unanimously approved both contracts at its regular meeting Tuesday night, completing a selection process that began last fall.

Here's what to know about them.

Why did PSD change literacy curricula so soon?

Both new programs are on the Colorado Department of Education’s list of approved literacy curricula. PSD’s previous program, adopted four years ago, was not.

Which schools will have the new programs, and when

The EL Learning program will be used at all non-charter PSD elementary schools other than core-knowledge schools Bethke, O’Dea, Traut and Zach — which will use the Amplify CLKA Skills core-knowledge literacy curriculum — and dual-language schools Harris and Irish beginning this fall.

The district’s two bilingual elementary schools, Harris and Irish, will continue to receive support for their existing McGraw-Hill Wonders and Maravillas English/Spanish companion programs, as recommended by the district’s elementary literacy materials review team. Those programs are both on the state education department's approved list, said John Passantino, PSD’s director of curriculum.

How the district chose the EL Education program

The EL Education program received overwhelming support from the review team that has been examining various programs that align with the Colorado Academic Standards and support Common Core's key shifts in language arts since last fall.

The review team was comprised of 31 elementary-school educators; two elementary-school administrators; seven members of PSD’s central office staff, representing English-language development, multi-tiered system of supports and information technology; and four parents representing Beattie, Linton, Tavelli and Timnath elementary schools.

Fifteen of the 21 members who had a strong preference initially favored the EL Education program over two other programs that had been selected as finalists, Amplify CKLA and HMH Into Reading.

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Feedback from three community engagement sessions in January, where all three vendors made presentations and shared samples of their instructional materials, was shared with the review team and factored into the discussions they had Feb. 23, Passantino said in a presentation shared at the Board of Education meeting before its vote Tuesday night.

After additional discussion by the review team, Passantino said, 31 of 33 advisory board members voted in favor of recommending the EL Education program to Superintendent Brian Kingsley.

Kingsley then recommended the adoption of the program to the Board of Education, which must approve all PSD expenditures of $250,000 or more.

“This moment is significant in a lot of different ways,” Kingsley said, “because we’re raising the floor of excellence — we’re not dictating a ceiling, but we are significantly raising the floor of excellence for literacy instruction across all of our elementary schools.”

Kingsley said the district is working on professional development plans to provide teachers, administrators and other staff with the training they need to implement the new curriculum.

Here's what made the program stand out

A number of factors made the EL Education program stand out to the review team members above the others, Passantino said:

  • The systematic foundational skills include differentiated small-group instruction informed by assessment.

  • The program is based on a trade-book library, “which means actual books that you could buy in the bookstore and those are the foundational texts for this programs,” he said.

  • It includes hands-on, multisensory activities.

  • There is embedded support for English learners in the core curriculum.

  • It aligns with Colorado’s next generation life-science academic standards.

  • It was created by teachers, not a publisher.

  • There are fewer lessons and they fit neatly into a PSD school year without forcing teachers to double up some days or skip some lessons.

  • The quality of student work and level of writing required is demanding.

  • It reinforces character traits to help students “become effecting learners, ethical people and see how they can contribute to a better world."

  • It had the highest ratings for cultural responsiveness of the programs that were considered.

  • It has a digital platform with an online classroom that integrates with Google Classroom, which is currently in use throughout the district.

What PSD's contract for Imagine Learning's EL Education program includes

The contract for the EL Education program covers the cost of all required books and recommended trade books that align with the themes being taught for each classroom, digital licenses and access for teachers and students, and annual replacement of all consumable materials through the 2033-34 school year, Passantino said in his presentation and while answering follow-up questions from members of the Board of Education.

Why is the contract for the Amplify CLKA Skills program shorter?

The shorter time frame for the Amplify CLKA Skills core-knowledge literacy curriculum contract was intentional, Passantino said, to give the district more flexibility to shift if a better, more comprehensive program for its core-knowledge schools come along. The Amplify CLKA Skills program, he said, aligns well with the materials the district’s core-knowledge schools are currently using.

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How will the district measure success after the switch?

Board member Jessica Zamora and chair Rob Petterson said they expect the board to receive regular updates from the district about the effectiveness of the new curricula, given their central importance to the district’s educational efforts and the money being spent on it.

An important part of measuring that success, Passantino said, will be in its implementation. Teachers are expected to adopt it completely right away and not try to modify it with previous materials they might have used.

“This is high-quality instructional material, a high-quality system” he said. “We need to have it delivered the way it was designed to see how effective it can be. … We really want to hammer home that we want to give this the best shot as it was designed and then we can go from there.

“I think the work is aligned and we’re excited to get going on it.”

Reporter Kelly Lyell covers education, breaking news, some sports and other topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at kellylyell@coloradoan.com, twitter.com/KellyLyell or facebook.com/KellyLyell.news

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: What to know about Poudre School District's new K-5 literacy curricula