Tacoma high school freshmen and sophomores will be using a new curriculum this fall, following a 4-1 vote by the Tacoma School Board Thursday night.
The SpringBoard curriculum, developed by the College Board with an eye on college preparatory work, is already being used successfully in Tacoma middle schools, according to teachers who spoke to the board Thursday.
District officials say they want to continue that success by adopting the first two years of the high school version of SpringBoard for use across the school district. The last districtwide curriculum adoption for high school language arts was in 1998.
SpringBoard will cost Tacoma Public Schools about $1.5 million spread over seven years.
Jason Lee Middle School teacher Ashley Coats said her students, who use Springboard, have already created a graphic novel, written a short story and studied novels about the Holocaust -- as well as met Holocaust survivors. Currently, they’re working on transforming the story of Rip Van Winkle into a play.
“Springboard challenges them,” said Meeker Middle School special education teacher Nancy Webster.
Critics of the curriculum -- including board member Debbie Winskill, who voted against it -- argued that SpringBoard is heavy on excerpts, short works and pop culture. They say SpringBoard leaves out too many literary classics and doesn’t require enough long-form writing.
“I’ve been hearing that it’s dummied-down curriculum, and middle school students are bored,” Winskill said.
But Coats said that SpringBoard is flexible: “I can add whatever I want. I can cut lessons I don’t think they need.”
“Teacher creativity and craftsmanship will improve,” predicted Bernadette Ray, assistant principal at Wilson High School. She said language arts teachers there are excited about SpringBoard.
Non-voting student school board representatives Laura Dittell, a Foss High School senior, and James Wenlock, a Science and Math Institute junior, were asked by the board to weigh in on SpringBoard.
Laura said she reviewed the book with her teachers. She said it lacks a vocabulary and pronunciation guide -- an important component for students with learning disabilities. She also said high school SpringBoard might not be challenging enough for some students.
Added James: “I’m not sure this curriculum will take my education to the next level.”
Board member Catherine Ushka said she likes the diversity of literature represented in SpringBoard. But she said she also heard concerns about the lack of full-length works. She said parents report that teachers say they’re forbidden to teach works that aren’t part of the adopted curriculum.
Superintendent Carla Santorno said that one feature of SpringBoard is that it allows teachers, through professional development, to go through lessons together and decide which books will reinforce the curriculum. The budget for SpringBoard includes $54,000 for the purchase of supplemental classroom books in the first year of the program.
“SpringBoard allows students to explore,” said Roger Chow, the school district director of curriculum and instruction. “The sample lessons are just an opportunity -- they are not the end, simply the beginning.”
He said there is no single perfect curriculum, and that the hope is that teachers will be able to find gaps and fill them.
Two ideas were offered Thursday night that could help mollify the critics. Winskill suggested that school librarians help create a reading list for every grade level in the district.
Board member Karen Vialle asked that the district develop an “opt-up” policy. It would allow students to take a test and -- if they pass -- they could move up to the next level class in language arts.
“I think SpringBoard works for 95 percent of our kids,” Vialle said. But she said an “opt-up” policy might address concerns that SpringBoard isn’t challenging enough.