(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia)—More than 60 teachers, administrators, academic coaches, parents, and community partners from across the school division have come together as an adoption committee to lead the way to the selection of the division’s next K-5 reading curriculum. A 2022 state law required all school divisions in the Commonwealth to improve literacy outcomes for students, beginning with a newly-adopted curriculum for the 2024-25 school year.
“In our division, we want the selection process to be transparent to our staff, families, and community partners,” said Michele Castner, the Executive Director of Elementary Education. “It’s important that we hear as many voices as possible, that we are thoughtful in our approach, and that there’s a premium on attention to details.”
Castner said that beyond the adoption committee, every stakeholder in the division will have the opportunity to be involved in the analysis of the curricula approved by the state’s department of education. The emphasis, she said, will be on a rigorous evaluation of each program’s evidence-based track record.
Programs will be judged on how effectively they can be utilized by teachers to develop such skills as language comprehension, including vocabulary, language structure and verbal reasoning, and word recognition, involving phonological awareness, decoding (spelling-sound connections), and sight recognition of familiar words.
The six programs approved by the state are Benchmark Advance; Bookworms Reading and Writing; Core Knowledge Language Arts 2e; HMH Into Reading Virginia; Imagine Learning EL Education; and Open Court Reading. (Click on the name of each program to access a snapshot and overall rating from the Virginia Department of Education.)
An adoption committee will vet each program according to its quality, relevance and fit, and by the end of October, it is expected that two programs will be semi-finalists. The materials for these two programs will be sent to all 15 of the division’s elementary schools for further review by teachers, staff, families, and community partners. A set of materials will also be housed at the division’s Center I facility. Representatives from the semi-finalists will meet with the committee to make a presentation and respond to questions.
“Our timetable includes having our Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Dr. Chandra Hayes, make a presentation on January 11 to our school board on the program we are recommending, with a school board decision the following month,” Castner said. “That will allow for us to put in place the professional development and training programs our teachers will need prior to the start of the 2024-25 school year next August,” she added.
Prior to the school board’s approval of a reading curriculum for next school year, program information and materials will be available for public review and comment for 30 days.
The move to a new reading curriculum is gaining momentum at a highly relevant time for the division. The results from the state’s most recent Standards of Learning (SOL) tests showed that the overall pass rate in reading for the division was 74%, slightly above the state average. Pass rates, however, for Black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, students from economically disadvantaged homes, and English Learners were much lower.
“There’s no question that, overall, reading scores across the division are off the mark when it comes to ensuring that all of our students are learning at their highest level,” Hayes said.
The assistant superintendent said the results reinforce the importance of a recent audit of the division’s instructional practices and policies, especially as they impact students of color. The audit, initiated by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Matthew Haas, and endorsed by the Albemarle County School Board in the fall of 2022, was conducted by an outside education consultancy nonprofit and detailed five recommendations for closing the achievement gaps that were again revealed in the SOL test results.
Hayes especially underscored the significance of third-grade reading skills to the future academic success of students throughout their K-12 education. “Third grade is when comprehension becomes essential to understanding and mastering content in all subject areas. Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a crucial marker in a child’s educational development. Failure to read proficiently is linked to higher rates of school dropout,” she said.
“That’s why the selection process of a new reading curriculum for our elementary school students needs to be as open, inclusive, and deeply researched as ever,” Castner insisted. “The best decisions start at the grassroots and work their way up. We have exceptionally talented and knowledgeable educators who care about students. They will be invaluable to our success in meeting the three goals of our division—thriving students, empowered communities, and equitable and transformative resources,” Castner said.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs & Strategic Communications Officer