During any given year, the Curriculum and Assessment Department of Great Falls Public Schools is tasked with reviewing, aligning, and updating several content areas according to the Montana Office of Public of Instruction’s timeline. In order for GFPS to be accredited, the state requires that each content must legally follow certain processes in “accountability, research, and measurement”.
For the past three years, the K-12 Social Studies content and the past year, the English Language Arts content has been under review and alignment.
Rachel Cutler, K-6 Curriculum Coordinator, and Beckie Frisbee, 7-12 Curriculum Coordinator describe the process of alignment to the purchase of materials below.
What process did your department go through to eventually obtain new materials?
It was a condensed, but thorough process. After our alignment and revision of state standards for GFPS, we began by forming a committee and dividing our work into elementary/secondary. On the elementary side, we looked at state’s who had increased reading proficiency fairly dramatically and discovered they had embraced the Science of Reading. As we dug into that, we discovered and read the book The Knowledge Gap with the committee. The Science Of Reading describes a body of research that has been conducted for several decades to find evidence of how kids become proficient readers and writers. Next we used EdReports, Student Achievement Partners and The Institute of Education Science What Works Clearinghouse to identify programs that had high marks for both alignment to standards and SOR based teaching methods.
On the secondary side, we formed a secondary curriculum committee that was made up of teachers, administrators and community members. With this group we looked at the Science of Reading and what research is telling us about best practices in learning to read. The committee then previewed 4 different sets of materials from different companies. The top two companies were invited to come meet with the teachers and tell us about their program/product. The materials were also available for community preview with comments. The committee then voted unanimously for Mcgraw Hill StudySync.
What data supported your search in new materials for ELA and Social Studies?
ELA-Our district wide data has been flat for several years (even prior to Covid). There was a subgroup of 20-30% of kids consistently not reading on grade level. Because so many students are identified as needing extra help (and teachers are working incredibly hard to provide it), we decided that new materials and professional development in the Science Of Reading would give us the best shot at increasing success for all students. The SOR research advocates moving away from practices that our teachers were trained in college to use (leveled texts, rote memorization of sight words, 3 cueing system, allotting time to reading instruction to the exclusion of science and social studies). Some key elements of the new program for elementary, Core Knowledge Language Arts, are oral language and knowledge building, phonetically controlled text, and explicit, systematic phonics instruction.
Social Studies-The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework is much more inquiry-focused and with the adoption of standards at the state level that reflect the C3, we need to make some considerable shifts in how we teach social studies.
What specific materials were purchased with One Time Only Funds?
In grades K-5 we purchased Amplify CKLA-Core Knowledge Language Arts/For Grade 6 we purchased Amplify ELA. For grades 7-12 we purchased McGraw Hill StudySync. We also purchased mClass which is the connected intervention for CKLA.
We have purchased nothing for Social Studies but plan on continuing to work with our committee to identify and evaluate resources in the upcoming school year. Our initial look at Social Studies resources in the elementary indicates that the resources have not fully embraced the spirit of the C3 Framework and the instructional shifts it requires. Secondary teachers looked at resources this summer and are closer to having new materials than elementary. We have allocated OTO funds for our Social Studies committee to continue to do this work outside of the school day (and in summer).
A portion of 7-12 grade McGraw Hill StudySync ELA materials for students including 1780 novels to support the new curriculum was purchased with OTO funds.. Roughly 400 student consumables were ordered at each grade level with a 4-year license. The license includes new student workbooks each year and the online access for students and teachers.
What grade levels and/or subject areas do they encompass?
Both CKLA and StudySync programs are very comprehensive. For grades K-6 the CKLA materials encompass reading (all 5 key areas), writing, listening, speaking, handwriting, spelling and grammar. For grades 7-12, StudySync integrates reading and writing with content(similar to CKLA) and takes a very multimedia approach to teaching and learning. It is also very customized for each student and allows teachers to use tech tools to assess and make instructional adjustments in real time.
How did using the One Time Only funds help the district general fund?
In elementary, without these OTO funds, we would not have been able to purchase these new materials. The cost would have been prohibitively expensive. The use of these funds to purchase ELA, frees up money to be able to refresh curriculum materials in other areas (some of which have not been updated since the early 2000’s).
In Grades 7-12, 45% of the purchase was paid through OTO funds. This allows for ELA materials to be purchased without sacrificing other new textbook adoptions that are also occurring at the same time.
What outcomes do you expect from these purchases?
In the short term I think we will see more engagement from students because of the rich topics and the fact that each successive year builds upon the knowledge from the previous one. In the longer term we anticipate students to acquire stronger communication skills (both oral and written), and a wide range of general knowledge and vocabulary to support their reading comprehension. In districts that have implemented CKLA, student achievement scores have increased not just in reading, but also science and social studies. Another benefit to this purchase is the professional learning that teachers will engage in. Elementary teachers will benefit from 15+ hours of reading training this year to support this shift to teaching practices identified by cognitive science to be most effective.
Over the next three years in secondary, we would hope to see the reading and writing scores on the ACT return to pre-covid levels and then continue to improve. In 5 years, incoming 7th graders will have been exposed to Amplify with decoding and phonics since upper elementary. In 7 years, they will have learned to read completely under the focus and research as described in the science of reading. These changes should allow students to have scores well above our current levels.
Any interesting tidbits you would like to add.
One powerful one is this: The state of Mississippi passed a law that required their teachers to be retrained in the Science of Reading. Following this shift, Mississippi has rocketed to number 1 in the country in terms of reading growth on the NAEP. I hope we can see similar results in Great Falls!!!
The Curriculum Department is a vital part of Great Falls Public Schools. Without its leadership in research, development and training, the district would not meet the state requirements for accreditation. Through collaborative work with teachers and administration, Beckie and Rachel work tirelessly to ensure GFPS students are being taught with the best resources available. Thank you!