LIVINGSTON, NJ - When the Livingston Board of Education met Monday, Livingston Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Patricia Boland reported on the Mt. Pleasant Middle School’s “Craft of Language” class, which is a two-year-old program currently being offered to this year’s eighth graders. The eighth-grade Craft of Language class was introduced this year in response to parents who were concerned that their students missed Craft of Language, which is now taught annually at Mt. Pleasant Middle School.

Pat Boland, the former Heritage Middle School principal who officially became Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction this summer, spoke on behalf of the school-wide “Craft of Language” initiative that will now be taught to 84 Heritage Middle School students. According to Boland, the course was written with 100 percent of the content being drawn from the Common Core Standards and covers vocabulary, grammar development and editing. The new Craft of Language class is offered as an elective over the course of 40 days, or during one marking period.

According to Boland, eighth-grade students placed in Craft of Language this year were those who struggled with the base components of literacy and need extra time on task for reinforcement. A survey was sent out to more than 400 students to establish whether they were interested in the elective.

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Qualifications were based on teacher recommendations and student test scores from the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) standardized test. As part of the cycle elective programs, all students were surveyed for their interest. This included students with special needs.

At Heritage, the seventh-and eighth-grade curriculums have been written to embed Craft of Language (vocabulary, grammar, editing) skills into all core content areas. The class was originally created to use at Mt. Pleasant Middle School two years ago based in part on data and scores from NJASK. While analyzing NJASK assessment data, the need for this new class became apparent when 14.6 percent of students fell below the proficient mark in English and Language Arts. Since the course initiation, the special-education numbers have been reduced.

“Some students are struggling and we need to address that,” said Boland. “We will address any specific needs your children have.”

The new curriculum was created in response to the request of parents who were afraid that the current seventh graders had Craft of Language classes during the 2014-2015 school year, but that the current eighth graders just missed the opportunity to take it.

“There are benefits to the change in structure,” said Boland, who also explained that the Board is working with social studies, science and algebra teachers so that the Craft of Language course directly corresponds with the eighth-grade curriculum.

Currently, there are no plans to continue offering this class at Heritage after this year since all Livingston Public School students will have received Craft of Language instruction during sixth grade. In sixth grade, the class is currently a yearlong program with 90 lessons offered every other day.

Several parents attended the meeting to request more information and established that there was a lack of understanding about the new course. Maureen Biss, a Livingston parent and teacher of Craft of Language, said the course was going well so far. Biss assured the parents in attendance that she is working in conjunction with foreign language teachers as well.

“Going forward, the district plans to review the kindergarten through Grade Six curricula to identify areas of strength and areas of need, especially in the area of word study, grammar and mechanics,” said Boland. “The review will also include an assessment of the middle and high school curricula and its strengths and areas of needs, as well as continually assessing data to inform our practice.”

Should more students wish to take the course, additional sessions will be added to accommodate the need of the students.  For students who were not selected for the class and whose parents believe will benefit from the reinforcement, parents are invited to call the principal’s office at Heritage to ask that Craft of Language be substituted for one of their electives for marking Periods two, three and four.

The school intends to post Boland’s presentation to the school website. In addition, a community forum to inform parents about the ELA curriculum and listen to their concerns is being planned for later this fall.