Last summer the Des Moines School Board formally adopted a set of SMART goals and metrics for monitoring progress toward them. The first one is:

Student Expectation Goal 1: The percent of all third grade students on track in reading will increase from 52% to 72% by June 2023, as measured by FAST (Formative Assessment System for Teachers).

When the 2019-20 school year began, K-5 teachers at Des Moines Public Schools were armed with a new curriculum that promises to be a major tool as elementary reading proficiency builds toward the targeted benchmark.

EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) is impacting student achievement in diverse communities across the country, ensuring that students not only master rigorous content, but develop positive character in the process.

“It is one of the highest rated K-5 curricula,” said Kelly Schofield, Director of Elementary Teaching & Learning for DMPS. “We were seeing disparity of instructional content around the district and we wanted a curriculum that provides equity of instruction to all students.”

Dustin Hockman is the Instructional Coach at Madison Elementary School: “Components and protocols are the same across grade levels and from school to school,” he said. “A student could move from one school to another in the same year and they would hear the same vocabulary.”

At its regular meeting on January 7, the Board received a monitoring report that will serve as the baseline for reading proficiency data against which progress under the new EL curriculum will be measured. The report was supplemented by a video presentation (view it in the upper right corner) about EL and the impressions it’s made among teachers around the district so far.

Themes like human rights and social justice are built into the curriculum and fit hand in glove with the district’s increased emphasis on social/emotional learning as a behavioral teaching tool.

“A social/emotional component is embedded (in EL),” according to Schofield.

On that score, Debbie Hauser, a 5th grade teacher at Monroe Elementary School had this to say: “I’ve seen a huge increase in empathy from my students.”

Abby Boruff teaches 2nd grade at Moulton Elementary School, and she echoed Hauser’s observation. “They truly understand the concept when we talk about a text in terms of behaving like ethical people,” she said. “Plus, I can look at my modules in 2nd grade and see how they directly build into the ones students will face when they reach 5th grade.”

EL uses rigorous reading materials as a springboard to other learning. Challenging texts naturally lead to more advanced writing, for instance.

“I’m seeing kids already writing at a level this year that used to take my students all year to reach,” said Catherine Lyons, a 5th grade teacher at Morris Elementary School.

Pablo Ortega is the district’s Director of English Language Learning. DMPS has 3,800 ELL students in grades K-5 and Ortega likes the culturally responsive texts and practices featured by the new curriculum. “In my interactions with fellow educators around the country I’ve heard nothing but great things about EL,” said Ortega. “It’s going to be a win for our kids.”

Amara Danielson, a 5th grade teacher at King, is also fired up about EL. “This curriculum is demonstrating to us as teachers that we need to give students the opportunity to make that leap to more rigorous content, because they can,” she said.

Getting from 52 to 72 in 3rd grade reading proficiency by 2023 looks a lot less daunting and a lot more doable now that a committed corps of teachers is equipped with the state of the teaching art/science curriculum.

For more information about the district’s SMART goals, visit the School Board’s web page.

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