Harford County Board of Education Approves Expansion Of "Units of Study" Middle School Writing Curriculum To Boost Student Writing Skills


A collection of materials used in the new Units of Study curriculum. (Credit: Harford County Board of Education)

HARFORD COUNTY - On Monday, the Harford County Board of Education voted to expand the "Units of Study" middle school writing curriculum to seventh- and eighth-graders.

Harford County first adopted the Lucy Calkins Units of Study curriculum in 2017. The Units of Study middle school writing curriculum is a widely recognized and comprehensive approach to teaching writing. It employs a workshop model emphasizing the writing process and covers various writing genres, including narrative, informational, and argumentative. The curriculum provides explicit instruction, modeling, and guided practice, allowing students to develop essential writing skills such as organization, elaboration, voice, and grammar. It incorporates peer collaboration, teacher conferences, and mentor texts to support student learning.

The curriculum has already demonstrated its effectiveness in improving student writing proficiency. The On-Demand Assessment, an open-ended prompt used to evaluate students' writing skills based on aligned standards and scoring guides, showcased substantial improvements in post-assessments compared to pre-assessments.

Before introducing the Units of Study curriculum, only 2.4% of 245 sixth-grade students from North Harford Middle, Bel Air Middle, and Edgewood Middle Schools met or exceeded expectations in the pre-assessment for narrative writing. However, following instruction with the writing Units of Study, 53% of 244 students surpassed expectations in the post-assessment, signifying a substantial enhancement in narrative writing skills.

Similarly, an additional pre-assessment focusing on argumentative writing was administered to 207 sixth-grade students attending the same schools. In the pre-assessment, only 19.8% of students met or exceeded expectations. However, after implementing the Units of Study curriculum, the post-assessment showcased a significant leap, with 59.7% of 211 students meeting or exceeding expectations.

Despite its results, the adoption of the expanded curriculum has faced pushback from parents at prior board meetings. Parents are concerned about the lack of handwriting instruction. Specifically, cursive not being included in the curriculum.

Annmarie Steltzer, the school system's assistant supervisor of English and Language Arts, told the Baltimore Sun that HCPS would infuse cursive instruction into other areas of study.

"While we do recognize that there has been some community comments and feedback about cursive or handwriting, cursive and those skills are not included in the Maryland College and Career Readiness standards for middle schools," Steltzer said. "So Harford County Public Schools is intentionally infusing more opportunities for cursive and handwriting practice into the financial literacy portion of our social sciences curriculum at both elementary and secondary levels."

Harford County Board of Education member Carol Bruce shared her concerns about the curriculum's impact on teachers and how the On-Demand Assessment data is collected.

"My concern that I still have in reference to the use of this is how it impacts our teachers in terms of having enough time to process all of this," Bruce said. "One question I have is when you do the evaluations, is it done by this group or by another [Harford County Public Schools] group?"

Eight of the ten board members ultimately voted to approve the expansion, with Bruce abstaining. Patrice Ricciardi was not present at the meeting.

According to HCPS, expanding the curriculum will cost a total of $7,941, including $1,956 for Aberdeen Middle, Fallston Middle, and Southampton Middle Schools; $1,343 for Havre de Grace Middle School; and $729 for Swan Creek School.

HCPS shared teacher and student testimonials about the new program, touting its success in inspiring students to write.

"I feel like a better instructor of writing because of the structures, tips, and strategies provided in Units of Study. Never before have I had an explicit writing curriculum ...To me, it is much more effective than the integrated language arts approach I'm used to," an HCPS teacher said in a news release.

Kaylee, an HCPS student, said that the program taught her how to write purposefully.

"I used to just write, and all the words would spill out, but now I write with purpose and intention," Kaylee said.

For more information about expanding the Units of Study writing curriculum and the On-Demand assessment, see here.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for May 22 at 6:30 p.m.

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified