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August 26, 2014

Roseville schools approves new middle school reading program

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

ROSEVILLE — The Roseville Board of Education unanimously approved a new reading program for both middle schools Aug. 18, which should standardize what kids learn in all the classrooms there.

Assistant Superintendent Mike LaFeve said the district has been focusing on improving reading and math scores by intervening with kids who are struggling, but now needs to refocus back on the core material.

“We’ve spent so much time addressing interventions that we need to go back and make sure our core is solid,” LaFeve said. “Because if kids aren’t being exposed to a rigorous curriculum, then what all kids are getting isn’t as solid as it needs to be.”

Curriculum Director Mark Blaszkowski said there was a consistency problem where each school, and even each classroom, was doing something different. This made it difficult to analyze how the curriculum as a whole was working for students, come test time.

The new program also matches the state’s common core testing standards, something the old curriculum did not.  The program, titled “Collections,” is from Houghton-Mifflin, and according to Blaszkowski, it was built from the ground up to fit those standards.

He said the reading side of it “really pushes” informational expository text, narrative fictional texts and academic vocabulary. The old curriculum was much more limited on all of those fronts.

“This will provide that consistent curriculum. It has a writing component in it, as well as technology integration,” Blaszkowski said. “The middle schools are very tech-rich, but there’s nothing worse than having technology and not using it.”

LaFeve said the school district had used a School Improvement Grant to purchase about 1,000 iPads for students in both middle schools, which students can use with the Collections program. Students have the option of being assigned one for the school year, during which they are responsible for keeping it in good shape — a system that LaFeve said tends to work better than just handing them out in class periods.

“I remember when we got the nice calculators in for math classes,” LaFeve said. “You’d get them back at the end of the day and they’d be broke. We’d have no idea who did it.”

The iPads will provide access to a digital version of the textbook and an updatable app for the reading program. Blaszkowski said there is also an online component accessible both on a computer and via the iPad. Students could download any necessary files to the iPads and use them offline.

“It’s kind of like downloading a book to the iPad,” Blaszkowski said. “By doing that, they don’t need Internet access.”

At the end of the year, those devices are returned, cleared of any materials the students put on them and reused for the next class, he said. For students who do not take an iPad, he said they would still have physical textbooks they could use instead.

The Collections program as a whole cost $1.5 million, paid for out of the last tranche of grant money to which the middle schools had access, Blaszkowski said. It is not expected to include any impact on the budget.

Teacher materials and initial training are included as part of the package, with additional training and coaching throughout the school year billed separately.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.