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Benchmark Review - Colorado Dept of Education

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

Dear Superintendent Graff, Dr Fearing, Sr. Officer Moore, Chair Ellison and MPS Board –

Enclosed are two recently obtained rubrics created under the Colorado READ Act completed by the Colorado Department of Education on Benchmark Advance 2018 and Benchmark Advance 2021. MPS uses the 2018 curriculum and our understanding is to “upgrade” to the 2021 curriculum would require the district to purchase an entirely new curriculum. The WBWF committee requested an audit of the curriculum and I am copying them on this email.

The Colorado Dept of Ed provided a “Not Recommended” opinion on the use of Benchmark Advance 2018. Benchmark updated the early foundational skills with the addition of Wiley Blevins phonics curriculum in the 2021 edition, and Colorado has now approved Benchmark 2021 version for grades K-2 but still has declined to approve for grades 3-5.

In the 2018 rubric, the items highlighted in yellow are areas where the curriculum is identified as “weak or not evident”. The first two weaknesses are concerns that teachers have repeatedly shared with us.

  • Abundance of teacher and student materials were hard to manage

  • The foundational skills are introduced in an incidental manner, rather than explicitly, so sequence of skills instruction is not linguistically aligned and lacks the systematic sequential structure necessary for optimal foundation skill acquisition.

We have also connected with a former teacher who has reviewed Benchmark for another district and has provided the teachers of the district training on how to deliver instruction from a curriculum suffering basal bloat, we are hoping to connect further with her, but her preliminary conversation highlighted what she felt was a weakness in building vocabulary, background knowledge, mastering complex text etc. She has not yet reviewed the writing component of the curriculum.

As MPS continues the conversation on literacy, the deficiencies in our current curriculum will need to be addressed.

Also enclosed is the MPS data submission to MDE indicating (page 5) 42% of MPS students’ foundational literacy skills were so low they are being flagged as having “characteristic of dyslexia”.

The 2014 Special Ed audit highlighted the need to address low literacy levels in MPS, these are not new problems.

Our failure to provide more children with a solid foundation is a source of stress on our students, parents, teachers and building leaders that needs to be addressed. Low literacy and math proficiency results in lower enrollment as academics are a priority for most families; behavior issues in the classroom with students who can’t participate; too many children are missing out of general ed classes as we move so many students into interventions and sped, inability to deliver high quality instruction, etc.

The MTSS model calls for district leadership to address the issues at the curricular or systems level when more than 20% of general ed students education is not being met in the Tier 1 classroom.

As we have said before, there is a national conversation going on about addressing literacy instruction in our classrooms, MPS can take a leadership role in this conversation. We have the historic opportunity to make investments to improve the experience for children in our schools, let’s not waste it.

Some resources on districts who have transformed their curriculums:


David Weingartner

In 2014, MPS had a "Special Education Opportunity Review". The audit identified the following "high leverage areas":

1. Develop a clear and consistent approach for providing reading

instruction at the elementary level

1a. Create an “intervention for all” approach to elementary reading

1b. Ensure general education teachers take primary responsibility for the delivery of core instruction.

1c. Build a data and accountability system to support the elementary reading program.

2. Implement large scale formal reading instruction at the secondary level.

2a. Develop mechanisms to identify struggling readers at the secondary level as well as track their success over time.

2b. Provide opportunities within the school day for all struggling readers to receive at least 45 minutes of reading instruction in addition to the core English instruction.

3. Ensure that the vast majority of students with special needs are expected to master grade level content, and are provided the exposure and support to do so.

3a. Increase the number of students who are educated in an “inclusive” setting.

3b. Ensure there is no watering down of content or expectations for students who are not cognitively impaired.

3c. Ensure that all students with special needs get extra help from teachers who are skilled in specific content areas.

4. Maximize time and support for students with related services staff, such as speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and social work.

4a. Increase the amount of time speech and language clinicians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists spend with students, and more closely manage their case-loads and group size through thoughtful scheduling.

4b. Consider redefining the role of social workers to increase the amount of counseling with students.

5. Flexibly match the staffing to enrollment of citywide classrooms, while ensuring the needs of students drive the placement of such programs.

5a. Flexibly match staffing to enrollment and existing guidelines.

5b. Create transparent, student centered rules around location and movement of special education citywide programs.

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