Durango School District 9-R received a letter from the Colorado Department of Education about three weeks ago informing the district it needs to update its K-3 reading curriculum to comply with the state READ Act, which requires that school districts provide evidence-based training to all teachers in grades K-3.
The school district was told it has until Aug. 1 to train its teachers with the compliant curricula.
Superintendent Karen Cheser said she and other school administrators were surprised to receive the letter. Cheser and Laurie Rossback, executive director of curriculum instruction and assessment in the school district, said they’ve received conflicting information from the state about what sort of curricula are considered compliant with the READ Act.
“There was some, maybe misunderstanding or not clear messaging from the state Department of Education,” Cheser said. “From what I understand ... the only consequence of not choosing one of the (state-approved, evidence-based training programs) ... was that they couldn’t use READ Act funding for that particular resource.”
Rossback is overseeing the district’s compliance with the READ Act as well as the district’s process for curricular review, which involves getting reading programming that is state-approved and supported.
Rossback said she is in communication with education department officials to clarify the state’s expectations of the school district. She’s also already met with multiple publishers and vendors of evidence-based reading curriculum in a search for “the best possible resource to partner with the Colorado Academic Standards to ensure we have much greater success in ensuring student proficiency in the area of reading.”
“I’ll keep engaging with that process on my end and then we’ll be bringing in teachers and school leaders to start looking at resources to ensure that we do meet the requirements presented by CDE,” she said.
She said she needed more information from the education department in order to determine which elementary schools within Durango School District 9-R could be in or out of compliance with the READ Act.
“We are using a K-2 (curriculum) approved by CDE and by the READ Act for our early learning foundation,” Rossback said. “So all of our teachers are trained in that program, they are provided the resources.”
What that current curriculum doesn’t include are reading comprehension and writing components, she said, so the district needs to seek out additional resources.
“We’re also ensuring that all of our K-3 teachers have met the READ Act training requirement, specifically in the science of reading,” she said.
The school district is also pursuing the adoption of a new K-12 mathematics curriculum.
Cheser said the district is able to use Esser funds to help pay for the adoption of new curricula.
“We know that that’s a pretty expensive proposition to completely realign our reading programs, our English-language arts programs and to purchase a core curriculum that is on the list,” she said. “And so we are thankful for that and that will be a primary use of these funds. I know we’re talking about reading, but we’re doing the same thing with math.”
Cheser added that a part of the training process and the search for the right evidence-based curriculum is to remove the burden from teachers. She said what’s happening now is teachers have to spend too much time searching for resources and creating their own.
“They really don’t have that kind of plan time in the schedule or in the calendar, and so we hope this takes a tremendous burden off of them so that they will at least have the basics and a basis foundation for aligning curricula and planning lessons and units, at least just to start,” she said.
“We don’t want to take away the creativity of our teachers in any way,” she said. “This at least gives them a foundation of all the tools and materials and resources they need to design great, engaging lessons for students.”