School district needs more money for science curriculum

March 22, 2011

By Laura Geggel

After absorbing blows from state budget cuts, the Issaquah School District is $500,000 short of the money it needs to update its elementary school science curriculum.

“The materials are outdated,” Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Emilie Hard said.

This year, the district is updating two of its curricula — elementary school science and high school language arts. Usually, district administrators update curricula every seven years.

The elementary school science curriculum was last updated in 2003, but budget cuts have lengthened the wait for high school language arts — it was last updated during a three-year period from 1999-2001.

District officials expect the high school language arts curriculum adoption will cost about $600,000. The elementary school science curriculum will cost an estimated $1.2 million, with the district paying for $700,000 of it, Hard said.

The new curricula are crucial, she said.

“In fifth grade, we have no current science materials to meet the state standards,” she said. “In some grade levels, we have some resources that are somewhat aligned, but because our students need to be prepared for meeting these state standards not only for this year bit also for the future, we are very committed to put these materials in the hands of teachers.”

Reserve money previously allocated for the curriculum adoption has gone to backfill the $1.45 million the district lost from the state for the 2010-11 school year.

In light of the budget crisis, the Issaquah Schools Foundation and The Issaquah PTSA Council are banding together to help raise the remaining $500,000 for the elementary school science curriculum adoption.

“The district is likely not able to fund the full science adoption, so that’s why we are really counting on our community partners,” Hard said.

Elementary school science adoption

District administrators plan to buy curricula from several publishers to make a well-rounded science curriculum for its elementary school students.

“From publisher No. 1, we might pick a unit on solids, liquids and gas, and from publisher two we might pick a unit on plants and animals and a unit on suns, moons and stars,” Hard said, explaining how the administrators were picking units that were “the best of the best.”

After narrowing down which units it liked best, a committee of teachers and representatives serving specific student populations, including special-needs and gifted students, sent the curricula into about 60 classrooms to be field-tested.

During a community preview night March 11, about 25 people came to see the units and left comments about the ones they liked or didn’t like.

Using comments from teachers and community members, the committee will make a recommendation to the Instructional Materials Committee. The committee will review all of the curricula, ensuring they match state and district standards, and then make its recommendation to the school board in late May or early June.

There is an additional two-week period when the community can review the science curricula. Check the district website — www.issaquah.wednet.edu — for updates.

High school language arts adoption

The high school language arts curriculum committee has narrowed its choices to two publishers — Pearson Prentice Hall and McDougal Littell.

Both publishers have textbooks as well as online components that allow students to read the texts on the Web, play interactive games about the literature and have sections read aloud to them.

The committee is also updating the novels high school students will read in class, committee facilitator and Issaquah High School Vice Principal Julia Bamba said.

Teachers have one month to field test the hard copies and the online components of the curricula.

About one dozen community members came to a preview night March 15. Community feedback was “very positive overall,” Hard said.

Bamba said both publishers had much to offer.

“When you go in, you think you love one and when teachers start using both and when you get student feedback, you go back and forth,” she said. “I think both programs have a lot to offer.”

She acknowledged that students without the Internet might be at a disadvantage, and the committee was deciding which materials to recommend purchasing. District administrators could buy a classroom set of books and online access, or they could buy textbooks for every student. Or, they could buy classroom books and a few extra, allowing students without Internet access to check them out from the library.

The committee will make its recommendation in April to the Instructional Materials Committee.

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