Literacy 120420 10-12092020213442 (copy) (copy)

Signs in a fifth grade classroom encourage reading positivity at Randall Elementary School in Madison on Dec. 9, 2020.

The Madison School Board has chosen two curricula to guide the school district’s early literacy efforts for the next decade.

The board, after months of deliberation, unanimously chose to purchase the Open Up/EL Education curriculum and materials for its English language arts programs and Benchmark for the multi-language programs at some schools around the district. The district will spend $5.6 million for the curricula, instructional materials and professional development.

The vote received applause from the staff members in attendance at the meeting, which was the first in the Doyle Building auditorium to allow in-person public attendees since February 2020.

“I just have to say, YES,” superintendent Carlton Jenkins said excitedly following the vote to more cheers and applause from the crowd.

The other option under consideration would have purchased the Benchmark curriculum alone for both English language and dual-language programs. That would have been cheaper and allowed for some greater efficiency in professional development, but Jenkins ultimately recommended the two-track choice.

“(This option) puts our students at the center of the district’s decision-making,” Jenkins wrote in a memo to the board.

Six national vendors responded to the district’s request for proposals. A 38-member committee of school staff evaluated each proposal and a smaller committee recommended two options to Jenkins that he forwarded to the board.

Open Up only offers an English language arts option, meaning there was no option to select it for all programs.

Board members were initially supposed to vote on the new curriculum last month, but delayed it for more discussion into April after having a slate of questions at a work group meeting earlier in March. They again discussed the options at an instruction work group meeting in April.

Two of those who voted in favor Monday, Laura Simkin and Nichelle Nichols, were new to the board after winning their seats in the election earlier this month. Neither spoke on the subject during the meeting.

During the meeting, Jenkins said staff would provide an update on implementation at the next instruction work group meeting. His recommendation included forming a superintendent’s implementation advisory committee.

That group would have three tasks: monitor implementation of the curricula, monitor delivery and application of professional development and disaggregate data “to ensure the success for all students, including those from historically excluded groups.”

The four board members who spoke before Monday’s vote expressed strong support for the recommendation but stressed the importance of the work ahead. Board member Christina Gomez Schmidt said she hoped the district would recognize the demands already being placed on elementary teachers with professional development and social and emotional learning work.

She specifically asked district leaders to reach out to the schools with multi-language programs as they pursue that “heavier lift” of implementation.

“I don’t know exactly what they will need, but I really hope we can work in close collaboration with those schools to determine exactly what those needs might be,” Gomez Schmidt said.

As she has in recent months, board president Ali Muldrow stressed that the discussion around literacy remain focused on closing disparities.

In MMSD, 34.9% of students in grades 3-8 scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the statewide Forward Exam in 2018-19, the most recent year the exam was given with a high percentage of students participating. The results were worse for every non-white group of students other than Asians, who had the same percentage as the district as a whole in those two categories.

Just 10.1% of Black students taking the exam scored above “basic,” with 58.9% scoring “below basic,” the lowest level. For Hispanic students, meanwhile, 16% scored “proficient” or “advanced,” with 46.9% scoring “below basic.”

“My major concern is no matter what materials we purchase and invest in, that we will arrive at a similar conversation a decade from now,” Muldrow said. “And that that conversation will continue to be shaped by disparities in literacy and in access to reading for students of color.

“My hope is that if we continue to have this conversation and continue to center our young people and the young people who need our support and who have not historically had the same access to achievement throughout our district, that we will be able to produce different results.”

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