COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools will get new language arts materials for the first time in 18 years.
The Columbia School Board approved the purchase of new language arts materials after a lengthy discussion Monday night in a packed room of teachers, parents and concerned citizens. While there was little dispute about the need for new course materials, there was concern about the selection.
After the change to the language arts curriculum in June 2010, the Elementary Language Arts Program Evaluation Committee accelerated its search for instructional materials. According to Janet Tilley, language arts coordinator with the district, six sets of materials were selected, three of those were moved forward, and two of those were later eliminated because of studies that showed poor efficacy.
The last reading program standing was "Good Habits, Great Readers" by Pearson Education Inc.
Tilley said one of the reasons it was selected was because of the results of studies suggesting its success in other counties similar to Columbia.
"Good Habits, Great Readers" had been used in Cobb County, Ga.; Columbia County, Ga.; and Bucks County, Pa. According to Tilley, Columbia County and Bucks County have similar demographics to Columbia. She said the instructional materials were implemented in all of these counties in 2008, and all reported increased achievement for minority students.
Although the committee decided it was sufficient, some board members and community members voiced doubts about the materials' success rates with minority students.
Board member Ines Segert said she found the Pearson studies did not provide results that were different enough from the results in control groups that did not use the materials.
"Minorities do not perform as well as the white students," she said about the study. "This is the status quo, and the status quo is not good enough."
In the end, the board voted 4-3 to use "Good Habits, Great Readers" for K-3 levels.
"Our scores for African-Americans are abysmal, especially at lower levels," Superintendent Chris Belcher said. "We have to have some sort of action, and we have to push this forward."
The supplemental materials "Ladders to Literacy" from Brookes Publishing for kindergartners and "StartUp, BuildUp, SpiralUp" from Benchmark Literacy for K-3 students were also part of the proposal.
Board members Segert, Michelle Pruitt and James Whitt opposed the motion. The materials will be purchased for $620,000 with funds from the 2010-11 operating budget and from the Title I American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.