In March, the Ogden School Board approved the purchase new English language arts curricula for the 2018-2019 academic year, costing about $1.4 million for all grade levels.
Two curriculum adoption committees composed of teachers, principals, and instructional specialists — one for grades K–5 and one for grades 6–12 — selected the curricula.
The elementary committee selected the Wonders curriculum by McGraw Hill, at a cost of approximately $755,000 for seven years. The secondary committee selected the myPerspectives curriculum by Pearson, at a cost of about $630,000 for five years.
Now two months into the school year, reviews from teachers, parents and students have started to roll in.
“I like it better than last year because I just like being engaged more,” said Carter Huntington, an eighth grader at Mt. Ogden Junior High School. “Everyone has their own (work) book, and it has the little boxes for annotations, too, so I think it’s kind of personalized, and I think that’s why it’s good.”
Elisabeth Huber, a teacher at Ogden High School, has a lot more time to focus on student engagement with the support of the new curriculum.
Now in her third year of teaching, Huber said that if she had the myPerspectives curriculum as a first-year teacher, it would have made a “night and day” difference.
As a new teacher, “you’re creating these assignments and trying to find the value in them,” Huber said. “Now that I don’t have to build all this curriculum, I can spend more time ... planning how am I going to present this text ... and do it in a way that our kids find engaging.”
While there was a curriculum in place for secondary teachers to use before this new adoption, the previous curriculum — Springboard, produced by The College Board — did not have as many resources for students reading below grade level, including students who speak English as a second language.
Because a large proportion of Ogden’s students are English language learners, teachers were often finding or developing these resources on their own.
Springboard may have lacked these resources because it was designed by The College Board to support Pre-AP coursework, which prepares students to take AP courses in high school, though it can be used in any course.
AP courses are often the most advanced courses high schools offer. The College Board also produces all AP exams, which high school students must pay for and pass in order to receive college credit.
In contrast, myPerspectives by Pearson includes what is called a “leveled text” for every text in the curriculum.
Leveled texts are are exactly the same text selections that are in the standard student workbooks, but they include additional resources.
For example, a particularly difficult paragraph in a text is accompanied by a simpler summary. Through understanding the summary, students can make sense of the more difficult text. This allows students who are having difficulty to still access texts at their grade level.
The myPerspectives curriculum also uses a method called the “gradual release model.” In this model, students start out reading the texts and doing activities as a whole class. Then they move on to working together in small groups. Finally, each student does an individual assignment at the end of the unit.
After each of these stages, there is an assessment to gauge each student’s progress, which prepares students for the final assessment at the end of the unit.
“At the end,” Huber said, “they should have all the tools they need to do well.”
This is true for junior high students as well, according to Carter Huntington.
“Right now, it feels kind of like the things that we’re doing are ... like building blocks,” he said. “The thing that we did last week ties into what we’re doing this week.”
While a different curriculum was chosen for the elementary grades — Wonders by McGraw-Hill — these principles of support and cumulative learning are still a major focus.
The new elementary curriculum “present(s) the students with learning in a structured progression, which means that the skills and content build upon each other and as well as the next grade level,” said Statia Davey, a district teacher specialist in elementary English language arts and math.
The Wonders program also “builds in ELL supports for our students (and) incorporates small group differentiation,” Davey said, “so it has lessons ... for students who are beyond level, students who are on level, as well as students who are approaching level — so it really helps provide for the needs for all students in the classroom.”
Two instructional strategies that the Wonders curriculum emphasizes are close reading and collaborative discussion.
Rather than requiring students to read a text and quickly move on to something else, Wonders emphasizes close reading by requiring students to read and reread each text they encounter.
Elementary students may also notice that they’re writing more than they did when they used the previous curriculum, Reading Street by Pearson.
Despite these differences, teachers’ advice to parents on helping their students succeed is much the same: ask them about what they’re learning and read with them.
The selection process
A new curriculum adoption every five to seven years is typical for school districts, so this move by Ogden to adopt new curriculum was not unusual.
In addition, the previous the elementary and secondary curricula were adopted before Utah’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the new Utah Core, so there were holes in the curriculum that teachers had to fill in to meet the state’s standards.
Both Wonders and myPerspectives went through a rigorous vetting process over the course of the 2017–2018 academic year before being approved by the board in March of 2018.
In September of 2017, the district sent out an invitation to all teachers to join in the curriculum adoption committees.
There were a set of basic requirements that teachers had to meet in order to serve on the committees, in particular having training in literacy instruction. All of the teachers who volunteered for the committees met these requirements and were invited to participate.
The district ultimately assembled a team of 30 educators with diverse backgrounds who represented schools across the district, as well as one parent. This larger group was split into two groups of 15, one for elementary and one for secondary.
Though not required by board policy, the district’s curriculum adoption oversight committee chose not to be voting members in either group, instead opting to facilitate the process and leave the final decision up to the adoption committees. The committee included Adam McMickell, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, Assistant Superintendent Chad Carpenter, and Executive Director Sarah Roberts.
While the members of the district oversight committee and Superintendent Rich Nye were not involved in past curriculum adoptions, they “were able to speak to enough stakeholders from teachers to principles to kind of get a perception of the past adoptions and how that went in the buildings,” McMickell said.
“If we did our job ensuring ... that the process was sound, we felt confident that (the committees) would select the best material for the district, and we believe we fulfilled that promise.”
After the committees narrowed their options —including a trial period when teachers took different curricula back to their classrooms and a series of open houses for teachers and community members — the committees each scored the finalists and recommended the highest scoring program for board approval.
Both Wonders and myPerspectives received the highest scores from the committees, and both were also the least expensive options.
There is some overlap with the choices of surrounding school districts. Davis also adopted the Wonders curriculum for the elementary grades in 2014. In 2016, Davis selected the Collections curriculum by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for secondary English language arts.
Weber is also in the midst of rolling out new English language arts curriculum at the elementary level. In the spring of 2018, Weber’s adoption team selected the Journeys curriculum by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for K–5 and the Collections curriculum for sixth grade, bringing sixth grade in line with the secondary curriculum that was chosen in the spring of 2017.
Amy Huntington was the only parent who participated in Ogden’s adoption process and was a member of the secondary curriculum adoption committee.
Huntington works at Weber State University in the office of college access and first-year transition, and she is concerned about the high number of students from Ogden who are placed in developmental math and English when they reach Weber State.
She was happy with the way that the district facilitated the curriculum adoption process.
“It was a very teacher-empowered, community-empowered sort of process,” Huntington said. “And I think that’s how it should be. These are the people that are in front of 30 or more students at a time, and so they’re the ones that have to do this on a day to day basis.”
The transition for teachers
Teachers value having a high-quality curriculum and a voice in the selection process, but district training and support in using the new curriculum are just as important.
“The biggest issue with curriculum is not really adoption,” said Sheri Heiter, Weber’s director of curriculum, “but the implementation and ongoing training for teachers.”
McMickell agrees, and teacher training has been a high priority in the first-year implementation of Wonders and myPerspectives.
The cost for teacher professional development was included in the cost of each curriculum. Both vendors, McGraw Hill and Pearson, have literacy teams that train districts in the use of their curriculum.
Ogden held two intensive training days for administrators and district instructional coaches. The district also held a summer institute for all impacted teachers, including all elementary teachers and all secondary teachers who teach English language arts. The summer institute involved a full day of training done by the vendors and supported by district instructional coaches. As far as ongoing training, elementary teachers have the option of attending professional development events at the end of each unit, allowing them to discuss what has worked well, and what’s coming coming up.
“They have provided ... an appropriate amount of training for us,” said Huber, “I’ve been to two training sessions, and I felt like I had learned everything that I needed to know coming into the school year to be successful.”
In Ogden’s previous adoption of the Springboard curriculum, Kim Richards, a teacher at Mt. Ogden Junior High, was surprised when she first received the materials.
“I kind of felt like it was sprung on me,” she said. “Like I came to school and they were like ‘this is what you’re teaching,’ and I was like, ‘wait, what?’”
Richards has been teaching for 24 years. Over that time, she has accumulated a lot of resources, having built much of her courses from scratch.
But despite this investment, Richards is happy with the new curriculum because it provides support while allowing her to customize what she does based on student needs. She can also incorporate other resources she has built up over the course of her career.
“I totally feel like I have flexibility,” she said.