Bedford School Leaders Detail Plans to Overhaul K-5 Literacy Curriculum

November 30, 2023

Steps are underway that are designed to lead to the upgrade of the literacy curriculum in the town’s elementary schools. 

Assistant School Superintendent Dr. Tricia Clifford told the School Committee on Tuesday that a new District Literacy Leadership Team will work with a consultant to “conduct a core literacy program review leading to the selection of a new literacy curriculum.”

“This means that the district will be transitioning away from the Units of Study for Reading and Writing – Lucy Calkins – program by the end of the 2023-24 school year,” she said. Target date for implementing the replacement program is the fall of 2024.

Calkins, a longtime educator, is a professor of literacy at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her curriculum has been the target of criticism and complaints over the past few years from teachers and parents in Bedford, most recently at the Oct. 24 School Committee meeting. 

“The current curriculum is outdated and not science-based and many districts have moved away,” one mother said. “We still are using a curriculum that is not evidence-based,” said another. 

A father at the meeting declared, “I challenge the School Committee to ask, ‘What are we going to do to revise our curriculum and change from the low-quality materials we are using?’”

Tuesday evening, Clifford noted that in her literacy plan update to the committee last June, she acknowledged that the goal of “core curriculum and instruction,” including “consistency in core at all grade levels,” had not been realized.

After the most recent criticism, Clifford said, she convened the principals of Davis and Lane Schools, the special education director, and the elementary English language arts coordinator “to determine next steps.”

They interviewed consultants, then contracted with HILL for Literacy, which she described as “expertly tailored in-service education which can be implemented to fit a particular literacy profile.” 

Besides the selection of a new literacy curriculum,” Clifford said, the agenda also features a 10-module science of reading course provided by HILL and endorsed by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, she said.

Comprising the literacy team, besides Clifford, will be parent, teacher, and instructional coach representatives from Davis and Lane Schools; as well as Andrea Salipante, curriculum coordinator; Davis Principal Beth Benoit; Lane Principal Rob Ackerman; Director of Special Education Marianne Vines; the director of English learner education, Carrie Powers; and someone representing sixth grade.

This task force will begin meeting in early January and undertake “a comprehensive process that includes reviewing and selecting high-quality instructional materials,” Clifford reported. 

“The objective of the review process is to capitalize on the unique knowledge base of all participants, secure ‘buy-in’ and ownership by staff and stakeholders, and to select a high-quality instructional program that will meet the essential instructional needs of the students.”

Separate “science of reading” training for administrators and teachers highlights topics such as “The Brain and Reading;” “Features of Effective Instruction;” “The Power of Phonemic Awareness;” “Word Blending: A Hierarchy of Skills;” and “Growing Vocabularies.”

School Committee members reacted with approval. In answer to a question from Brad Morrison, Clifford said all teachers and administrators in kindergarten through grade 5 will have completed the training by the end of next summer. 

“We have created a very clear schedule so it fits contractually,” she added.

“The Bedford way is to include as many people as we can,” said Sarah Scoville about the literacy team. 

Sarah McGinley said, “This is really positive and I think the community is going to be positive and enthusiastic.” 

Sheila Mehta-Green said she hopes the change corrects the “downstream effects” that show up in middle school among some students. She requested a monthly update on the progress,

“This is an improvement, this is not a repair of a broken system,” said committee Chair Dan Brosgol, noting that a few years ago Lane School students led the state in reading scores. 

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang said there has been overall success, but “we have children who haven’t been successful. The hope and intention are that this shift will help us close those gaps.”

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