A new middle school language arts curriculum with a focus on writing standards was passed by the Brainerd School Board Thursday, June 25.

Changes to language arts and high school intermediate algebra are the last curriculum updates for the upcoming school year, Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning, told board members.

“The purpose of the curriculum improvement process is to ensure that each District 181 student has access to a rigorous, guaranteed and viable curriculum,” Murtha said. “So each of the curriculum groups, as you know, brings forth evidence of reviewing the standards, reviewing the evidence-based practices involved in the instruction and the assessment, and then they lay out — through a process of prioritizing the standards — what they feel is the best way to approach fulfilling the standards as a promise to the community of what kids will know and be able to do.”

Murtha said one of the main goals of the new language arts curriculum is to vertically align writing standards for grades 5-8 “for the purpose of creating an organizational spine that they wrap their open education resource work around.”

RELATED: Brainerd Public Schools: Board approves elementary curriculum changes

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This vertical alignment with writing, Murtha said, is something that has not historically happened throughout different grades at the middle school level.

The 10 writing standards for middle school students are:

  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • Write routinely over extended timeframes and shorter timeframes for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences.

  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.

  • Write narratives and other creative texts to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

  • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

  • Use a writing process to develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, drafting, revising, editing, rewriting or trying a new approach.

  • Use technology — including the internet — to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions demonstrating understanding of the subject matter.

  • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.

Other language arts standards under the new curriculum include: reading comprehension, understanding literary themes, use of context clues, grammar comprehension, participation in effective conversation, ability to evaluate a speaker’s point of view and reasoning, ability to orally present information in a logical sequence for an audience to follow, and the use of digital media and visual displays to convey information.

The cost for the curriculum is $113,000 over the course of eight years and one-time $5,000 fee for professional learning.

Intermediate algebra

Board members also approved an Open Educational Resources course for high school intermediate algebra.

Open Educational Resources, or OER, is a program allowing teachers to access digital resources in the public domain and collaborate on materials with other educators. These materials could be anything from a class syllabus, to a single piece of reading material, to a full peer-reviewed textbook.

The new intermediate algebra course, Murtha explained, will use only self-created resources from Brainerd High School teachers.

“They serve as a model for many of the other departments in how they’ve gone forward,” Murtha said. “And it’s not just that they’re doing it digitally with open resources, but also the use of formative assessments and because of the technology involved, their ability to respond to what the formative assessments tell them and support students in meeting the standards. So it allows them to differentiate, it allows them to intervene. It is right now a model for us in what we’re doing.”

With the self-created resources, the cost for the updated curriculum is $5,000 for professional learning.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.