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Bedford school officials recently discussed adjustments on how they plan to phase in a science of reading strategy as the district desperately tries to improve its literacy ranking.
At the Aug. 30 Board of Education meeting, Trustee Kristine Stoker called on her colleagues to quickly hire a nationally recognized expert to help the district implement the best science of reading approach and pause consideration of a handful of different pilot reading programs until the consultant is hired and can recommend the best option for Bedford.
Stoker also urged the board to use the Windward Expository Writing program since the district doesn’t employ a writing curriculum.
She also pressed for accelerated training of teachers to be trained in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS).
“All I’m trying to do is improve our literacy rates, which are 52 percent (in grades 3-8) in our district,” said Stoker, one of two new board members who started her term in July. “I don’t want that to go backwards.”
Currently, about 25 percent of teachers have been LETRS trained, although close to all K-2 teachers are expected to have their training completed by the end of this school year, according to Amy Fishkin, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
An original outline had the district’s teachers being trained in LETRS completed over four years, which needs to be accelerated, Stoker said.
“If the teachers don’t have LETRS training, which is the gold standard in science of reading, evidence-based curriculum, I think our implementation won’t necessarily even work the way it’s supposed to work,” she said.
Stoker asked the board at its last meeting to bundle the various steps into a series of four resolutions, that would also tweak a previous resolution approved by the board in January that would eliminate the Lucy Calkins reading approach from the district by June 30, 2024, and implement science of reading for the start of 2024-25.
She wants to have the Calkins program, developed by its namesake, the founder of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, to be eliminated no later than June 30.
Calkins’ method, which stresses a workshop-style curriculum that includes student choice and more independent learning, has come under fire in recent years as more educators have argued that a science of reading strategy is more effective. Science of reading generally emphasizes teaching students letters and sounds.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Glass said he agreed with the goals raised by Stoker and endorsed fast-tracking the LETRS training of teaching staff and hiring a consultant as soon as possible to help the district choose the best approach.
However, he cautioned against putting a deadline on the elimination of certain curriculum, which could unnecessarily box the district into an action that it might not be prepared to address.
“To put a date on it in a resolution form, we may not be able to meet that time limit if the process gets moved a little bit,” Glass said.
Board President Robert Mazurek said he believes everyone on the board agrees with what needs to be done, but the district must first retain a consultant.
“I don’t think there’s objection or any space between us in the plan in terms of these items, call them tactics, whatever, as they are able to be implemented at a point in time, but we need to know a little bit more,” Mazurek said.
Fishkin responded that her office will provide recommended names to the board in one of the upcoming meetings.
However, Stoker, who withdrew her resolutions before the end of the discussion, said she wanted a nationally recognized expert that has implemented science of reading programs in districts throughout the U.S., not simply a consultant.
Glass said the person who is retained will be accepted by everyone.
“This is, I think a very high-leverage, important decision that there’s a lot of interest in, and we have varying levels of interest and expertise at this table,” Glass said. “We’re not interested in (recommending) someone we don’t have consensus.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/