Norwalk residents have a right to be informed about how their tax dollars are spent by the Board of Education. As members of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, we believe regular updates of the Committee’s work is a good way to keep residents informed. It’s their money, their Board of Education, and their long-term property values that are at stake.
In our September column, we focused on the expanded high school curriculum, the gifted and talented program, the new science curriculum, and the creation of a task force to examine our world language offerings. This column includes an overview of our October meeting topics.
Middle School Redesign: A few years ago, the board began to address a two-part problem in our middle schools. First, per pupil expenditures at middle schools were higher than per pupil expenditures at high schools. This was unique; it’s usually the other way around. Second, our student test scores, for years, dropped precipitously during middle school – despite the additional funds.
The board adopted a multi-year plan to correct the problem. We are now in phase three of the redesign, which the committee will regularly monitor. Our main concerns at the October committee meeting were to better integrate the remedial math program, called Teach to One, into the overall schedule, and to improve the professional development and coordination among the middle school house leaders. We were pleased to hear that a new program, called Encore, allows middle school students to participate in activities they choose based on their own interests.
Gifted and Talented Data: Last year, the board decided our G&T program needed to be revamped after reviewing state test scores of our academically talented students, which were not nearly as high as expected. The program was redesigned to ensure these students received challenging and imaginative instruction every day. Last month, the committee began monitoring implementation of the new program, which early indicators show is going well.
The board noticed last year that the student demographics of our G&T program did not reflect the demographics of our district; nor did they conform to national and state recommendations. As a result, we have adopted an entirely new method of identification.
The data from the three schools piloting the new program (Cranbury, Tracey, and Roton) indicate the district has made only slight improvement regarding the diversity of our G&T students; the number of Hispanic students in the program increased. However, 87 students between grades 4-8, who did not qualify for the program under the old method, were retested and met the criteria. We will monitor this problem closely as we review the results of all third graders who were recently tested.
Literacy Instruction: There’s probably nothing more complicated than teaching young people to read, write, listen, speak, and observe. Last year, after reviewing state test scores, the board concluded we needed to improve classroom instruction in reading and writing across the system. We seemed to be missing something, yet could not identify exactly what it was
During the committee meeting, a host of issues emerged, such as the number of times students actually are required to write during the course of a day, including homework; how to ensure students are receiving instruction based on their particular reading levels; the need for classroom teachers and out-of-classroom intervention teachers to better coordinate instruction; how to provide students easy access to books of interest; and the value of interdisciplinary activities, especially at the elementary level. This is a critical issue that will be regularly reviewed by the committee.
Before we adjourned, the committee decided to devise a communication system to prevent already-discussed issues from being forgotten as new issues emerge; a communication system that will keep committee members up-to-speed on the challenges facing the district.
The committee usually meets on the third Tuesday of the month, 5:30, in City Hall. In November, we will discuss student assessment data gathered in September to see if last year’s effort to expand our summer program has diminished the typical learning loss that occurs over the summer. We will also discuss Tracey School’s “character” curriculum. Of course, the public is always welcome.