Language arts class times won’t be extended in Cherry Hill middle schools in 2015–16

Cherry Hill sixth- and seventh-grade students will not be pulling double-duty in language arts for at least one more year.

Administrators in Cherry Hill Public Schools have decided to not move forward with a proposal from the principals of the three middle schools to increase language arts classes from 45 to 100 minutes for sixth- and seventh-grade students for next year.

Assistant Superintendent Joseph Meloche said the district is opting to take a step back and look more closely at the middle school principals’ proposal.

“We really need the time to study this in-depth,” Meloche said.

At the board of education curriculum and instruction subcommittee meeting on March 2, a proposal was brought forward to double language arts instruction in a similar fashion to a pilot program in place for Beck Middle School’s sixth grade.

In 2012–13, the school district began the pilot program at Beck to increase students’ growth in reading, provide more one-on-one time between students and their language arts teachers and increase the depth of students’ reading experiences across many genres.

To make room for a double period of language arts, the three principals proposed making world language an “exploratory” class where it would join art, music and STEM classes in only being taught for one-quarter of the school year rather than full-time.

The district decided not to move forward with the proposal because of numerous questions and concerns from board members and parents. One of the larger concerns with parents was having world language as an exploratory class.

Parent Austin Cohen said the district should be striving to enrich students across all subject areas rather than just language arts and math.

“Foreign language may help with understanding and testing,” he said.

Another parent, Lisa Cohen, was similarly upset about reducing world language instruction time, saying a full-year class is necessary with the ever-growing global world.

As part of the proposal, the school district surveyed a number of surrounding school districts, including Haddonfield, Collingswood, Voorhees, Marlton and Mt. Laurel. None of those school districts offered world language class on a daily basis.

Concerns were also raised with the effectiveness of the program. According to the district’s data, students participating in Beck’s pilot program say their proficiency scores in language arts increased much more than their peers at Carusi and Rosa middle schools.

However, some board members felt more data was needed, particularly to see if the growth was being sustained through middle school and into high school. Board member Lisa Saidel suggested they look at this year’ Beck eighth grade, the first class to participate in the pilot program, and see if they go into high school next year better prepared than previous eighth-grade students.

Board member Sherrie Cohen was concerned about the growth of minority students. She said data she looked at found 48 percent of minority students in sixth grade at Beck were not proficient in language arts.

“We’re still missing the mark with our minority population,” she said.

Austin Cohen felt increasing language arts instruction wasn’t going to fix the school’s proficiency scores in the long-term. He felt the district should put a greater focus on improving literacy in elementary school.

“The problem is we need to make the students better readers in the elementary schools,” he said.

The district hasn’t completely ruled out increasing language arts instruction in the future. Meloche said a committee consisting of administrators and staff from all three middle schools as well as their respective PTAs will be formed in the coming months and will meet to see where the district can move forward. Meloche added the pilot program will continue in Beck’s sixth grade in 2015–16.