Bedford’s New Literacy Curriculum Focuses on Phonics, Writing, Engagement

May 31, 2024

The new literacy curriculum recommended for students in the Davis and Lane elementary schools is known by its initials, CKLA. They stand for Core Knowledge Language Arts.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tricia Clifford announced the choice to the School Committee on Tuesday, culminating six months of research by a 30-member team of teachers, administrators, specialists, and parents.

Clifford said CKLA provides three strengths that are in sync with district goals: phonics, writing, and engagement. The committee agreed that phonics is the most important curricular component, and CKLA was highest ranked and “seemed most likely to excite and engage students.” 

She added that “by our own metrics, CKLA was highest in terms of quality of writing instruction.”

Implementation is already getting under way, and will continue through the coming academic year.

Bedford Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang announced that the budget allocation for the product, accompanying supplies, and training and professional development appears to be sufficient. 

“We are still figuring the precise cost,” Chuang said, “but based on a preliminary review it comes well within budget.”

The superintendent applauded Clifford and the literacy team for completing their project on time and under budget, “which I honestly think is tremendous accomplishment.”

CKLA will succeed a curriculum for kindergarten through Grade 5 called Units of Study for Reading and Writing, which has been the target of criticism and complaints over the past few years from teachers and parents. The School Committee committed to a replacement last November.

Clifford said the task force, called the District Literacy Leadership Team (DLLT), worked with consultants from the firm The Hill for Literacy. The DLLT vision statement prioritizes literacy instruction “to prepare students for life.” 

Clifford said the participants spent a combined 570 volunteer hours on their research.

After reviewing six curricular products, the DLLT narrowed the choices to three. Clifford said that was followed by an in-depth review of each, using a comprehensive set of tools provided by the consultant, discussions with individual publishers, and conversations with educators from other districts using one of three products under consideration.

The review covered implementation plans as well as programs of study. 

“They really tried to ground this in what students would experience,” the assistant superintendent said. 

The DLLT agreed on the final recommendation at a meeting last Thursday, Clifford said.

The range of subjects is designed to appeal to young readers, Clifford noted, citing some of them: astronomy, insects, Greek myths, farms, the five senses, chemical matter, early world civilizations. The literacy product is “culturally responsive,” she added.

Andrea Salipante, program administrator in elementary English language arts, described plans for implementation. She said 22 teachers this summer will “start to literally and figuratively unpack the kits.” Representatives of the publisher and The Hill for Literacy will be part of the process, she said.

In the fall, as the curriculum is introduced in the classrooms, additional educators will join the implementation process, she said, including grade-level and special-education teachers, literacy specialists and academic coaches, as well as sixth grade teachers anticipating the 2024-25 fifth grade cohort.

“That first year is going to be hard,” she acknowledged, and there will be opportunities for continuing sessions with specialists from The Hill for Literacy.

Asked by School Committee member Angel Pettitt if materials will be ready for the start of the year, Clifford said they are being received already. In answer to a question from member Sarah McGinley, she said there are no known supply-chain issues.

Pettitt, McGinley, and their colleague Sheila Mehta-Green asked about the curriculum’s comfort with students with individual learning needs as well as kids who move into the district mid-year. 

“Make sure all students in the classroom have access to the right tools,” Mehta-Green urged. 

“I have complete confidence that it’s the right choice,” said School Committee member Brad Morrison. 

Committee Chair Sarah Scoville agreed, saying, “Everybody seems to be enthusiastic.”

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