Elementary schools roll out new reading curriculum

August 21, 2012

By Christina Lords

Children will have the opportunity to sink their teeth into about 600 new books per Issaquah School District elementary school in the coming school year as district officials set their sights on rolling out a new reading curriculum for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The new curriculum is made up of three integral parts: a new book room for each school, a new phonics program and a new reading comprehension component to the program.

“We have a number of goals with this, including increasing reading achievement,” said Emilie Hard, executive director of teaching and learning services for the district. “Our scores are very good in Issaquah, but we know we can be even better. We’re lifelong learners … we want to keep moving forward every year.”

A book room, which will be available in all 15 elementary schools throughout the district, isn’t intended to take the place of school libraries, she said.

“There are all kinds of little affective goals with anything you do in education … some of ours include gauging things like how do students see reading?” Hard said. “Do they see it as essential or critical to their success? We want students to be reading a variety of kinds of books. We want them to have some choice in what they read. In the new curriculum, students will be selecting books as well as teachers selecting books to read.”

As educators take a step back from traditional methods where each student in a classroom reads the same book no matter the reading level, students’ reading levels will be evaluated on an A-Z scale where they can select books based more on interest or reading level, Hard said.

Under the new curriculum, younger students will begin the program with easier reading levels or “A” levels. As their reading comprehension capabilities and test scores increase, students will make their way toward the more difficult “Z” books as time progresses.

Members of the district began to study and research the new curriculum in 2010, with recommendations coming before the Issaquah School District within the past year. Parents were also surveyed on what they’d like to see for reading materials for their children during the process.

“That 2011-12 process was a very detailed analysis of these materials,” Hard said. “We looked at bias, we looked at accuracy, we looked at content, student appeal, the way things are written … are they easy for teachers to implement? We looked at any technology components. We’re thrilled with the new materials.”

A literacy support teacher, or what’s sometimes called literacy coach, will be available to help implement the new curriculum, Hard said. Each coach is assigned to two elementary schools in the district.

Many of the new materials delivered to teachers and schools were purchased with funds provided by the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

The new curriculum is a way to complement other focuses within the district in other areas, including critical STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — subjects.

“We’re trying to shift how we do things so students learn faster, so students learn more, but we also want to make sure their motivation is even higher than before,” Hard said.

The curriculum teaches problem-solving and thinking skills needed to thrive in an ever-diversifying workforce, she said.

“If anything, reading is becoming more and more important in the society we live in,” she said. “Reading is probably even more critical than it ever has been. It’s a foundation that transcends every other subject area.”

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