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HQIM vs. The Other Stuff

My daughter’s school district is the 25th largest in the nation, servicing 113,824 students. Of those students, 50% are considered economically disadvantaged. The reading test score proficiency for the entire K-12 district is 38%. Annually, the district spends 9 million dollars on instruction. And yet... ZERO students have access to high quality instructional materials.


On the district website, a bold claim states: Raising the bar, closing gaps, preparing for our future.


But… Can they make good on these promises?


The school district uses curricular materials for grades K-5 ELA that are rated as red and yellow on EdReports.org.

You might be wondering… What does that mean? Why does this matter? EdReports.org provides reports that help us understand the components of curricular materials, using a red, yellow, and green scale. Truly, green on EdReports should be a baseline for all students, with a note that not all greens are created equal (to learn more about why, listen to Literacy Podcast, Melissa and Lori Love Literacy, Episode X).


Week after week, I (virtually) observe the students who are struggling readers, mostly the black and brown students and English language learners, sent to another teacher for leveled reading, a practice unsupported by research. Unfortunately, the kids who stay in the class with the teacher aren’t receiving much better instruction. The core instruction that students receive day in and day out lacks the hallmarks of a literacy curriculum focused on building knowledge and vocabulary through complex, grade level texts focusing on worthy topics, and supported by rigorous tasks.


For Tier 1 instruction, third grade students routinely read brief, contrived passages on topics such as honeybees and bumblebees, rocket ships and airplanes, or red foxes and wolves. Then, they are asked to locate the main idea, discern the author’s purpose, or write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the topics using signal (or transition) words.


While well-intentioned, the unintended consequences of using low-quality materials is that students are starving. We need to feed them with rich, diverse, complex texts and tasks worthy of reading and writing about.


My daughter has the privilege of having a mom who understands the importance of the science of reading in order to effectively execute the entire reading rope. She has the privilege, like only 7% of elementary students do, of using HQIM to engage in deep study of worthy topics, texts, and tasks. She has the privilege of receiving instruction at home using HQIM; we use Wit & Wisdom ELA, which includes options for synchronous and asynchronous instruction.


Let’s pause to consider the compare and contrast writing task from her non-HQIM curricula that I previously mentioned. After reading four brief paragraphs comprised of basic sentences and less than thrilling facts about rocket ships and airplanes, the structured sample response reads like this:


Houses and nests are both similar and different in many ways. For example, a house is made for humans, however, a nest is made for birds. Also, a nest only has one room while a house has several rooms. Houses and nests are similar because they are both made out of trees. Additionally, both houses and nests provide shelter. These are just a few reasons why houses and nests are similar and different.


As you can imagine, responses looked very similar to the structure of the sample paragraph response, but instead of houses and nests, they wrote about rocket ships and airplanes.


In order to gain knowledge to write the response, they read simple sentences that read like this: “Rockets and airplanes carry people and things. Rockets travel in space. Airplanes travel across Earth. Pilots fly airplanes. Airplanes and rockets both use fuel and oxygen to fly.”


They are starving in content knowledge and hungry for information! We cannot claim to feed them with this contrived content.


Alternatively, after studying space by reading poetry and art as well as literary and informational texts, regularly practicing fluency with focused sections of complex texts, lots of opportunities for speaking and writing, and reviewing writing models and structures of organize thought, a third grader with access to HQIM wrote this:


Galileo Galilei was a famous scientist and astronomer. He helped people learn about space with his telescope and his writing. Galileo helped people learn about space by using a telescope. He used the telescope to make discoveries like the moon’s surface is craggy and he found that the earth is not the center of the universe. He even let other people look through the telescope so they could learn about space. Galileo also helped people learn about space in his writing. He wrote about his observations in a book called The Starry Messenger. He included information like Jupiter had 4 moons and described the moon’s surface. People were excited to see space through a telescope and were inspired when they read his book. People still learn from Galileo.

Which literacy experience is… equitable?? engaging? content-driven? committed to closing the opportunity gap?


If 70, 571 students in the school district are unable to meet or exceed criteria for proficiency for reading, then what needs to change?


If this large district claims that they are Raising the bar, closing gaps, preparing for our future


Then the first step should be adopting high quality materials that reflect that boldly urgent claim.






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