NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Board of Education (BOE) heard a presentation on the district’s curriculum and instruction updates at its Thursday, May 24 meeting. Jay Richter, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Supervision led the powerpoint presentation along with Reading Specialist Katherine Blanco and Middle School Principal Karin Kidd.

The Reading Specialist Program was introduced in the district four years ago, Blanco said. This early intervention program was launched based upon the findings of the National Reading Panel. The panel findings included the following:

  • By the age of five, children vary markedly in reading developmental goals
  • These differences continue throughout a child’s schooling, limiting or amplifying learning success
  • 74 percent of children who perform poorly in reading in third grade continue to do so into high school (Fletcher & Lyon, 1998).

The gap between learning abilities is caused by the so called Matthew Effect according to which good readers improve at a faster pace and poor readers improve at a slower pace, Blanco explained.

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The program’s goal is to have 100 percent of students reading at or above grade level benchmarks by the end of second grade. The district also began to reduce the student/teacher ratio at the elementary level. Reading Specialists are in each Kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms during the reading block session along with the classroom teacher. The program allows small group interaction and flexible grouping of students.

The district has seen “a lot of success” in preventing reading failure, Blanco said. Approximately 79 percent of the current fourth graders reached the benchmark reading level measured in September. However, only less than 50 percent of the same students met the benchmark level as first graders prior to the intervention program introduction. Subsequently, since the program was introduced the elementary school students’ reading aptitude level has grown significantly in each grade level. Over 90 percent of the current first graders reached the benchmark reading level measured in September, Blanco said.

Kidd explained the benefits of having class sets of iPads in the middle school language arts program. The iPads allow students to read at their own level. It also provides an opportunity for teachers to modify work to meet each student’s level of aptitude without their peers knowing. Furthermore, the program provides students with challenging enrichment opportunities, she said.

Increased student independence, including organizational skills, is another benefit of iPads, as the students do not have to rely on bringing books or papers in the classroom. IPads also provide a better opportunity to practice close reading skills, allowing students to annotate and highlight the reading material. Furthermore, iPads provide increased collaborative opportunities as immediate peer and teacher feedback is readily available. Teachers can also make real time adjustments and assessments. Using the iPad on a daily basis also helps students to navigate during the PARCC assessment, Kidd said.

The survey conducted among the 7th and 8th graders show that a large majority of students agree that the iPads have enhanced their educational experience.

The extended seventh grade language arts class time has also proven successful, Kidd said. Students have been able to experience a workshop model of learning as well as enhanced opportunities for differentiation. There is also more time for reading and writing and less students per teacher. The students have also scored higher on the PARCC tests, she said.

The future plans for the middle school language arts program include staff participation in the Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project. Curricular revisions and added sections of 8th-grade language arts and social studies are also considered, Kidd explained. The social studies teachers will incorporate non-fiction writing in their curriculum, she said.

Richter thanked Paula Vieira for her input on revising the district’s Gifted and Talented Program. This year the program included the following successful units of study:

  • Engineering – Assembly Line (4th grade)
  • Forensic Science – Cookie Jar Mystery ( 5th grade)
  • The Learning Brain; Learning Styles & Logic (5th grade)
  • Screenwriting – Generating Ideas for a Screenplay (6th grade)
  • Passion Project: Area of Inquiry (6th grade)

Next year the new study units include:

  • Forensic Science – Missing Money Mystery (4th grade)
  • Passion Project: Area of Inquiry (4th grade)
  • Culture & Community – Gateway to the World (5th grade)
  • Thinking Through the Law (6th grade).

Richter explained that students have experienced strong interest level on the Missing Money Mystery program. The Passion Project allows student to choose their own area of interest. The Thinking Through the Law includes mock trials and a study of the Constitution. Since the students have been exposed to many opportunities for coding, the coding program will be replaced with the new units, he said.

Richter also explained the tier structure of the enrichment program. The first tier incorporated enrichment within the regular classroom setting. The second tier is an enrichment program outside the classroom including enrichment events, clubs and pull-out programs. The revised third tier will provide students with math acceleration through enrichment and inquiry in the math classroom. This includes in-class math enrichment as well as a passion project in the area of math, he said.