ELA Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does MCPS define “curriculum?”

    Curriculum is the standards that we teach. It is the answer to the first question of our four questions within a Professional Learning Community - "What is it that we want our students to know and be able to do?" Once the standards are clearly defined then the materials and resources we use to address the standards are aligned. This answers the second question of a Professional Learning Community - “How will we know if they know it?”

     “The curriculum must provide clear guidance regarding the content to be addressed in specific courses and at specific grade levels. “ (Marzano et al., 2014, p. 69)

    What is guaranteed and viable curriculum?

    • Guaranteed curriculum means every student is provided the opportunity to learn a core curriculum, which provides them with the probability of success in school.
    • Viable curriculum means that the necessary time is available in the day, and protected, so students will be able to learn the guaranteed curriculum.

    What data lead to the decision to implement a standard curriculum K-12?

    It is important to recognize that the current student achievement data that led to the decision to ensure MCPS has a guaranteed and viable curriculum as a baseline of instruction for every student K-12.

    As a district that is implementing Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), we know that our data shows our current student achievement very closely matches the levels of poverty in our district. Specifically, we have about 65% of our students demonstrating proficiency across all academic and behavioral markers K-12. In a solid MTSS model, the district needs 80% of students to be proficient at the Tier 1 level so that teachers, special education support specialists, counselors and administrators can focus even more intervention on the 12-15% of students needing support in Tier 2, and the 3-5% needing extensive intervention and support in Tier 3.

    Our current levels show that we have 65% of students in Tier 1, 20% of students in Tier 3 and and 15% of students in Tier 2. In short, the needs of our Tier 3 students are overwhelming our support structures and our systems in order to ensure all students achieve progress each year. We are overwhelming our intervention classes by not having appropriately scaffolded instruction K-12 to address a variety of learner needs.

    The first step to fixing that problem is to get the curriculum in place to ensure that all students have the chance to build the same skills and content knowledge and that students who arrive to school behind their peers have the chance to catch up with specific interventions to build specific reading and writing skills. This practice is designed to allow all student subgroups to make progress and specifically to catch up the students who may come in behind their grade-level peers. It is no longer acceptable to expect parallel progress from all student subgroups- some subgroups need to make more than a year’s worth of progress to ensure they are on grade-level by the end of the year.

    This decision does not limit the ability to expose students at higher skill levels to more content in the form of additional activities and access to literature. The adoption of guaranteed and viable curriculum ensures a consistent and rigorous foundation for all students from which teachers can augment and develop extension activities.

    Did the task force members consider developing our own curriculum materials rather than adopting an external resource?

    While the task force did dialogue about developing materials, the amount of time it would take to create district wide common assessments, identify novels with appropriate text complexity and build-scaffolding lessons for struggling learners would take too much instructional time out of the classroom. While some teachers were in support of development, others did not feel they could commit to the amount of time necessary.

    How were ELA teachers in each school kept informed about the recommendations of the K-12 ELA Task Force?

    At key benchmark moments in the District Curriculum Task Force process, task force members and the Teaching and Learning Department take the recommendations of the task force to each school and meet with teachers in that content area. They share the developed curriculum components and recommendations and seek feedback to better inform the implementation. Some schools and departments have had multiple discussions for each content area.

    ENGAGE NY Questions for grades 6-12

    Where does IEFA fit into Engage NY?

    Teacher teams have already begun to dialogue about ways to incorporate required IEFA connections. For example, teachers in the 7th grade District PLC discussed comparing and contrasting readings about the Salish Long Walk to the novel, Long Walk to Water.  As we continue to build our understanding of the Engage NY Modules, teams will continue to add in IEFA lessons with support from our Native American Specialists. 

    Where does Art Integration fit into Engage NY?

    With common text and common units, it will be easier for SPARK artists or high school art teachers to partner with PLC’s to provide strategies for integrating Art into the content. This will ensure that ALL students benefit from Arts Integration.

    How do we continue to work with the Writing Coaches within the Engage NY modules?

    Writing coaches have been dialoguing with Teaching and Learning during the process. Several of them are familiar with EngageNY and Expeditionary Learning. They are planning on working closely with MCPS teachers and Teaching and Learning to support writing within EngageNY modules.

    What about Dual Credit, IB and AP?

    Dual Credit, IB and AP already have a set curriculum and predetermined readings, so these courses will not be affected. EngageNY will be implemented in English and Honors English courses. At our IB middle schools, units of study will be designed to align with EngageNY readings and writing lessons.

    How do teachers access Engage NY?

    Teachers will be supplied with a printed binder that highlights the units and modules we are implementing in MCPS. All materials are also in a shared Google Folder so teachers can add student work samples and photos of anchor charts. Additionally Teachers can access resources online at EngageNY; however, this also includes modules and units we are not implementing.

    Where is the teacher flexibility in Engage NY?

    This curriculum is a literacy curriculum that is designed with every single scaffold teachers could possibly need. Each support may not be necessary in every class. In our district PLC’s we have identified common text and common assessments. Teachers may compress lessons together if students already know the content or demonstrate the skills. Teachers can also spread the lessons out so that they can meet additional student need. This promotes teacher teams when answering the PLC Question #3 - What do we do with the students who do not reach the standard?; and Question #4 - What do we do if students do reach the standard?

    This flexibility enables teachers to meet the different learning needs of children.

    In addition, this is what Engage NY says about the teacher flexibility:

    The curricular and instructional resources on EngageNY may be adopted or adapted by schools and districts for local use. Some lessons in the modules provide detailed instructions or recommendations, but it is important to note that the lessons are not scripts. Rather, the lessons should be viewed as vignettes to help the reader imagine how the classroom instruction could function. These resources are optional and supplemental, and school districts are free to develop or purchase other materials for local use.

    Lessons are adaptable to allow for teacher preference and flexibility so that classroom instruction can meet students' needs while maintaining alignment with the Common Core learning standards. If you choose to make significant changes to lessons, the Tristate/EQuIP rubric is available to help you evaluate the quality, rigor, and alignment of your adapted lessons.


    Why are only excerpts read in some novels?

    EngageNY is structured to teach so that students become stewards of their own learning and offers teacher support where and when students need it. Each excerpt reading is selected due to its specific text complexity and rigor aligned to common core. The use of excerpts is a current practice in many MCPS ELA classrooms because it allows teachers to focus on specific reading skills such as close reading and literary analysis.

    Classrooms may choose to read more of each text than the excerpt or they may read the novel in its entirety, depending upon the needs of the students.

    What about novels that are not on the Engage NY list for high school? Will we still be able to teach other novels?

    EngageNY identified novels and readings for their Modules with the appropriate grade level text complexity and the recommended balance of informational reading and literature. During Module 3, a “seed text” is used to help students identify possible independent research projects.  Teachers may identify other novels that support this student research.

    The content in the Engage NY Modules is a baseline framework to ensure that all students receive instruction aligned with the same standards, with the same materials at the same time during the instructional year. If students in a given class demonstrate proficiency with the skills and content in a given module quickly, teachers can supplement with additional resources and activities.

    What does the ACT data tell us about our student achievement?

    Our ACT data shows that we are performing slightly higher than many of the schools in the state. However, it also indicates that we have students that graduate from our high schools that do not yet meet the requirements for entry into Missoula College or the University of Montana.

    What about accessibility to the texts?

    All books and readings identified are available in large print and audio or through a screen reader. Additionally lessons scaffold the reading by providing a masterful reading, partner shared reading, individual reading, discussion protocol and writing. This allows for students more than a grade level behind to gain access to grade level text.  

    How do we include our ACT preparation, especially with grammar and vocabulary?

    Each lesson has designated vocabulary instruction. In addition explicit grammar instruction is built into the writing units at the 9-12 level and throughout the 6-8 units. When provided with explicit instruction in grammar and vocabulary throughout the year, students will be less likely to need additional test preparation and it can be moved to classroom warm ups instead of an entire unit.

    How do we collaborate with local authors and resources while still using Engage NY?

    MCPS still plans to integrate work with SPARK! Teaching Artists, The Missoula Writing Coaches and the Indian Education Department into the Engage NY Modules. In addition, we expect our teachers to augment the Engage NY Modules with additional local or personally developed resources.

    What is the cost?

    The cost is based on building a literacy rich classroom by ensuring that each teacher within a PLC has enough novels to teach at the same time and capitalize on collaboration. Because Engage NY is an open source online, the materials can be downloaded and printed with only the cost of printing.

    What is an “invitational” implementation?

    With an invitational implementation, teachers who are excited and ready to move forward go first. This allows for reflection and modification before other teams follow. 

    What does Professional Development look like?

    Implementing EngageNY well requires that teachers become familiar not only with the Literature and Informational text readings but with the classroom protocols and delivery models as well. Each year PLC’s will meet as a district team and model teach discussion protocols and collaborate around best practice. Throughout the summer, there will be two optional PIR days and a rollout day on one of the August PIR days. Teachers may also use videos linked into the EngageNY website for additional professional learning.

    What data is used to show that Engage NY is effective?

    MCPS is engaged with a consultant around this question and we will add this data to the Q&A soon!

    How do we include the lesson plans and assessments we have already created and have had success in using?

    We expect our teachers to augment the Engage NY Modules with additional local or personally developed resources. MCPS is engaged with a consultant who will help with guidance on this issue.

    Will there be any curriculum nights for parents to learn more about how this works in our child’s classroom?

    It is strongly recommended that curriculum discussions be a part of your Open House and Fall Parent Teacher Conferences.  If your building does additional curriculum nights, you might consider teaching parents a lesson and modeling a discussion protocol.