The Santa Barbara Unified School District is looking for a new English Language Arts curriculum after years of low and stagnant test scores.
District trustees voted to open a 30-day public inspection of a new English Language Arts curriculum for elementary school students at the March 15 school board meeting.
Board member Virginia Alvarez called the action a “step in the right direction.”
“We’re taking into consideration our students’ needs, … we’re acknowledging our areas of growth,” she said. “We’re saying ‘yes … we need to do better for our students and this is what we are doing.’”
According to Denise Alvarado, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, a new curriculum has not been adopted since 2007.
Alvarado said five English Language Arts curricula received extensive review, and the committee narrowed its choices to two: Amplify and Wit and Wisdom.
The two programs will be under public review for 30 days, then brought back to the school board for a vote.
Both methods utilize the Science of Reading program that was chosen by a literacy task force of district parents and teachers.
“The literacy task force made recommendations on some of the curricula, and we will also be looking at the feedback we’ve received from parents once they look at the two that we’re recommending at this point,” Alvarado said.
The district currently uses Units of Study, a curriculum developed by Lucy Calkins, an author and founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University in New York City.
The widely used theory of literacy instruction has been under fire for not being a proven method to teach reading.
In the program, students use context clues to read words they don’t understand, such as looking at a picture in a book to guess the word or guessing what word would make sense in the sentence.
A more favored way of teaching reading is through the Science of Reading. A key aspect of the program is that children are taught to sound out words, which is not as heavily emphasized in the Calkins method.
Task force members Monie de Wit and Cheri Rae are both parents of former SBUSD students with dyslexia. They are enthusiastic supporters of the Science of Reading program.
“We’re hopeful that if this happens, and Santa Barbara Unified becomes a Science of Reading district, that perhaps other districts in our county will be empowered to say, we should be looking at this, too,” Rae said.
“You can’t look at it district by district. This is a community effort, and this is a county issue. We have very low literacy in this county. It’s really shocking.”
The community information sessions will be available at each elementary school campus through May 8.