Committee Makes Reading Curriculum Recommendation

A subcommittee of the Highland Park ISD board of trustees Thursday recommended ‘phasing out’ the Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study curriculum for teaching reading and writing in kindergarten-eighth grade.

Per the website for the curriculum, in Units of Study, teachers lead classes in minilessons before students move on and apply the skills from the minilesson to independent reading, reading with a partner, or working with the teacher one-on-one or in small groups. Highland Park ISD board of trustees adopted the curriculum in 2019. The district’s education services ELA subcommittee includes trustees Bryce Benson, Maryjane Bonfield, Stacy Kelly, HPISD Assistant Superintendent for Education Services Lisa Wilson, and Superintendent Tom Trigg. 

“We are committed to a thorough, thoughtful process,” Benson said. “We are also committed to doing the phasing out and implementing new instructional materials in a way that is least disruptive to our kids as possible.”

“This is a part of continuous improvement,” Trigg added. “We are, as a subcommittee, very much committed to placing the very best resources possible in the hands of our teachers.”

House Bill 3, a sweeping school finance bill passed by the state legislature in 2019 also required specific phonics instruction and established the requirement that K-3 teachers and principals attend Texas Reading academies that align with the science of learning reading. 

Upon the revision of the Texas Education Agency’s curriculum for English/language arts, the district formed a committee of 32 staff members — including teachers, special education staff, instructional coaches, and administrators working at K-8 campuses— to review materials to help implement the new curriculum, the committee “determined that materials from Heinemann’s Units of Study in reading, writing and phonics were closely aligned with the new instructional framework,” HPISD chief of staff Jon Dahlander said. The board then approved the selection of these materials in April 2019 along with additional ELA materials for vocabulary, spelling and handwriting.

Since then, Benson cited analyses of the Units of Study curriculum by independent research organizations and nonprofits that noted deficiencies in the curriculum regarding phonics instruction as part of the reasoning behind the decision to phase it out.

EdReports, for example, a nonprofit that reviews instructional materials for things like alignment to Common Core State Standards and text complexity, found the texts included in the materials in the Units of Study curriculum for grades K-2 “aren’t appropriately complex for grade level and do not build in complexity over the course of the year,” and the material for grades three to five “do not meet the expectations for text quality and complexity and alignment to the expectations of the standards.”

The issue is expected to come before the board of trustees again, and district officials warned the process of phasing out the Units of Study curriculum will take time and isn’t expected to be done by the fall of 2022.

“We’re using the term phase out and phase out for a reason because the timing of going through this kind of a process is difficult and it’s delicate,” Trigg said. “I think we agree that the expectation that having the new adoption, having a thorough, thoughtful process for that, and then ordering materials, receiving materials and then providing training, professional development … it would be unrealistic to think all that would be done by the fall of ‘22.”

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at rachel.snyder@peoplenewspapers.com

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