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Review Team Proposes Reading Program To BOE



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The Board of Education was presented with an update on the district’s reading program selection process during their meeting in the Reed Intermediate School library January 17 before voting unanimously to approve the 2023-2024 implementation of Imagine Learning EL Education for kindergarten through fourth grade at its January 24 meeting.

During the January 17 presentation, Anne Uberti, assistant superintendent of schools and Director of Teaching and Learning Kara DiBartolo approached the board with results from a review team created to find and implement a suitable program by the 2023-2024 school year. There are six programs approved by the Connecticut State Department of Education, with one split into two options, which created seven total for this committee to review.

According to Uberti, in order for current reading programs to be kept, they must be “research- and evidence-based” to develop comprehension in a number of categories for each affected grade level.

Uberti and DiBartolo provided a chart illustrating which current programs in schools meet the new mandate for kindergarten through third grade. The chart also showed current programs that only partially meet requirements, or that do not meet any.

The presenters explained most state-approved programs would have eliminated all existing programs for kindergarten through fourth grade no matter if they satisfied the mandate in one or more categories. The review team had questioned why programs like Fundations, which is “evidence-based,” or Heggerty, which was “well-received and had a positive effect,” should be replaced in areas they were deemed effective.

Reassessing Goals

The motivation to keep existing programs that were acceptable by new CSDE requirements motivated the team to present a single choice, departing from the original plan to select two for board consideration.

“While all of the programs say that you can supplement them with other programs such as Fundations, only one is broken into components that truly allow for the flexibility to do so,” Uberti said.

This choice was EL Education Imagine Learning, which would replace programs in areas that do not currently meet CSDE standards. The district would need to submit a waiver to the state to be allowed to adopt this “hybrid” model, the structure DiBartolo later indicated would provide the “least amount of disruption for our students.”

Additionally, the team decided to forgo the idea to conduct a limited pilot altogether, and recommended to the board “a one year implementation of EL Education Imagine Learning for teachers and students grade K through four starting next year.”

“Our fear was that [conducting a pilot] would not allow for enough professional learning for our piloting teachers, nor would it allow them enough time to understand any of the programs,” Uberti said of both her decision to pick one, instead of piloting two.

Uberti also referenced a recent endeavor to pilot a math program two years ago, which had taken teachers “approximately four months to become comfortable with either program they were piloting,” and added “we also thought that piloting mid-year would be highly disruptive to student learning.”

“Of the currently approved programs, Imagine Learning EL Education is the only one that meets our needs as described,” Uberti later stated.

Plans To Integrate

Uberti and DiBartolo discussed how integration between EL Imagination Learning and current, keepable programs would work, including sample blocks of class periods to demonstrate a hybrid program. Additionally, they included sample blocks of third and fourth grade reading periods where EL Imagination Learning would completely replace existing programming.

Uberti and DiBartolo presented a slide titled “Key Features of Imagine Learning EL Education,” with bullet-points describing valuable aspects the committee found about the program, which included “resources for differentiated instruction, including suggested modifications to support English language learners.”

During questions from the Board, these modifications were expanded on by DiBartolo. In addition to modifications for English language learners, there are also suggested modifications in lesson plans and reading materials for those who read above or below their grade level. On a given lesson day, all students would be “exposed to texts on one topic at their level,” according to DiBartolo.

Board member Janet Kuzma said she was happy to hear that Fundations could be kept alongside a new program, but voiced concern that EL Imagine Learning could be “heavy on computer usage” according to her research.

“Some [of the state-approved programs] were definitely more tech-heavy than others. This one has a really great balance,” DiBartolo said, saying they have “printed materials” and an online component. According to DiBartolo, teachers can choose how much they’d like to implement the tech component, which also “allows teachers to collect evidence of student learning.”

“We happen to all believe in kids having their hands on actual books, and they will,” Uberti said, adding, “The books we currently have can also be used with it.”

According to the presentation, structured observations, performance data, and parent and teacher feedback will be used to evaluate program effectiveness. Programs for middle grades will be assessed, as well as ways to catch up to eighth graders who are transitioning into high school without the updated programs.

Board member John Vouros voiced concern that students who did not have the benefit of the updated program would be aging out of the pre-high-school levels, and that the district will “have to catch them up.” Uberti responded, “We have plans in place to address the needs of the students who have not benefited from this instruction at the elementary level and we are also developing a plan on how we can look at curriculum for [grades] five through eight.”

When board member Donald Ramsey asked about the overall feedback from teachers regarding introducing the new program, Uberti responded that feedback received was “very positive.”

Ramsey later commented, “It appears to me the odds of success are quite great in the curriculum aspect.”

Reporter Noelle Veillette can be reached at noelle@thebee.com.

Director of Teaching and Learning Kara DiBartolo (left) and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anne Uberti (center) approach the Board of Education with their review team’s selection of an elementary school reading program aimed to align Newtown schools with new state requirements.
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