Harford County School Board Approves Trial Of New Elementary Reading Program


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HARFORD COUNTY - The Harford County School Board has greenlit the trial of a new reading program for select elementary schools set to launch in the coming academic year.

Harford County Public Schools adopted the Lucy Calkins Units of Study reading curriculum in 2019 for use in kindergarten through fifth grade. However, the program has recently sparked controversy amongst board members and parents, sparking debates on its efficacy in teaching children to read.

Heather Kutcher, the executive director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, presented plans for trialing an alternative reading program in a handful of elementary schools. This pilot aims to measure student achievement and pinpoint the most beneficial curriculum to boost all children's literacy skills.

On March 14, the school system's Reading, English Language, and Arts department obtained approval from the General Curriculum Committee to formally review alternative reading programs. The process includes the active involvement of elementary educators and stakeholders in choosing the program and forming review teams using an evaluation tool from the Maryland State Department of Education.

The committee's comprehensive review of potential programs involved independent previews, group discussions, publisher presentations, and post-presentation meetings focusing on technology integration. Almost 50 members, including many educators, formed the selection committee.

On May 16, the Reading, English Language, and Arts department brought the selection committee's findings to the General Curriculum Committee, seeking permission to pilot the new elementary reading program at identified schools in the 2023-24 academic year.

Six programs underwent extensive review by the committee, but after a careful assessment, three programs were taken out of the selection process. The top three scoring programs were Benchmark Advance, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Into Reading, and McGraw Hill – Wonders.

Of these, 25 of 44 committee members favored Benchmark Advance, making it the most popular choice. The program includes comprehensive reading techniques and provides magazines for at-home reading, allowing parents to get involved.

The program's cost for a one-year subscription is $3,800 per kindergarten and first-grade classroom in selected schools. For a six-year subscription, the prices range from $4,500 to $5,400 per classroom, depending on the grade level. It's a one-time fee covering all six years; teachers receive materials annually.

Despite the higher cost than the current Units of Study program (~$1,200 per teacher), 13 elementary schools have expressed interest in the pilot. Final prices will vary based on the total number of participating schools, teachers, and students.

The school board unanimously approved the decision to pilot the Benchmark Advanced program. The following steps include identifying participating schools, securing a detailed cost proposal, and developing a professional development plan.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for June 5 at 6:30 p.m.

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