Mahwah Overhauls English Curriculum
New learning plan hopes to have students performing better on the SATs and state exams, promises to have students reading classics and learning more vocabulary and grammar
Beginning next September, Mahwah students in grades six through 12 will be expected to complete a “more rigorous” curriculum that officials say should help raise standardized test scores and streamline all students’ learning experiences, English Supervisor Dennis Fare and high school English teacher Dr. Mark Cacciatore told the Board of Education during a presentation Wednesday night.
The duo has outlined a new, 387-page curriculum plan that is in line with the state’s new Common Core requirements.
“I don’t want to say our old curriculum was lacking, but in my opinion it wasn’t up to where it should have been,” Cacciatore told the board.
In the new plan, grammar and vocabulary lessons will be weaved into every unit studied in each English class, Fare said. “Right now, our kids are only learning 15 vocabulary words a quarter.”
Classes will also study rhetorical devices, in an attempt to make students better prepared for standardized tests, he said.
Students will also be required to read more books during the school year. The requirement in regular education classes will be bumped from four to five books, and honors level classes will read six.
“We are also changing the required reading list,” Fare said. “Especially at the high school level, we want to include more texts from the traditional literary cannon.” The board has discussed at previous meetings that the district’s required reading list has moved “too far” from classic works, and was focusing too heavily on contemporary, less-known books.
“It’s a mix of new and old, so everything from your Shakespeare to your Toni Morrison,” Fare explained. “But it’s high-quality literature, the type of books that our students should be able to recognize quotes from.”
The new curriculum will also allow for all Mahwah students to get a more standardized learning experience, regardless of which teacher they have, school officials explained. “[The curriculum] is not prescriptive, so there is still room for creativity and the individual style of each teacher,” Assistant Superintendent Janet Donohue said. “But, it is designed so that the same opportunity is afforded to every student, and each will have the same major experience. That is something to celebrate.”
The new teaching plan should also help students perform better on current state exams, and the future Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests that the state plans to roll out to New Jersey schools.
“We want to focus on the bubble students,” Fare said. “So, those kids that are on the cusp of proficiency and those on the cusp of advanced proficiency [scores on the state exams]. I think we can have more kids scoring in the advanced proficiency level.”
The new vocabulary and grammar instruction should help increase student scores on the Critical Reading and Writing scores on the SATs, Fare said.
Mahwah’s Class of 2011 averaged an SAT critical reading score of 549, and a writing score of 574 on the SATs. Averages are higher than the state averages of 495 in critical reading and 497 in writing.
“Our SAT scores are good, but I think they can be better,” Fare said. The new curriculum, “if done right cannot fail in helping students perform better,” Cacciatore added.
The curriculum rewrite is one of many occurring district-wide to allign Mahwah's curriculum with Common Core standards. The Common Core is a set of standards aimed at better prparing students for college. New Jersey adopted the standards in 2010, and the district has been working to reallign its curricula since then.