This post is published with permission from Amplify, the Core Knowledge Foundation’s publishing partner for the Core Knowledge Language Arts® (CKLA) program. The blog’s author, Stephanie Chang, highlights Byrd Avenue Primary School and their success with building knowledge with students through CKLA.
Walk through the halls of Byrd Avenue Primary School on any given day, and you’ll be surprised by some of the conversations the kindergartners are having. You might overhear them chatting about ancient civilization, or exactly how the sandwiches they ate at lunch are digested by their bodies.
“You’d think kindergartners wouldn’t be interested in Mesopotamia, but they love it,” says Debbie Jenkins, elementary curriculum and instruction supervisor of Byrd Avenue’s district, Bogalusa City Schools in Louisiana. “They’re just like little sponges, taking in all of this information and absorbing it.”
The reading and language arts program that introduced these topics to the children is Core Knowledge Language Arts®, or CKLA™, which works to develop world knowledge as well as word knowledge to create successful readers.
At Byrd Avenue Primary School, which serves grades K-2, 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The students often have issues with comprehension because of their lack of background or world knowledge, Jenkins says. As a result, as they get to the upper grades, they often know how to read the words but don’t understand their meaning, she says.
“Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to implement CKLA™. We took a leap of faith, and it totally paid off.”
Jenkins followed the work of E.D. Hirsch Jr., chief architect of CKLA™, for many years before Bogalusa implemented the program last year.
“Hirsch believes that comprehension problems stem from a knowledge problem,” Jenkins says, “and we needed a program to help build world knowledge as well as foundational reading skills. Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to implement CKLA™. We took a leap of faith, and it totally paid off.”
The difference the program has made in students’ language arts skills has been unbelievable, Jenkins says. The year before implementing CKLA™, 88 to 89 percent of Bogalusa’s kindergartners hit the reading benchmark; after implementing it, the number jumped to 95 percent. First-grade percentages jumped from the 60s to the 80s, Jenkins says.
“Each year, the curriculum builds on what they learned the previous year. So we’re building a foundation of knowledge at the youngest age,” she says.
The state of Louisiana has since placed CKLA™ on its “Tier 1” list of curricular resources for ELA and literacy. As for Bogalusa, because of its success with the program in K-2 last year, the district expanded its implementation to grades 3-5 this school year.
“We are expecting wonderful results in those grades as well,” Jenkins says. “We know now that we took the right leap of faith with CKLA™, and I continue to be one of E.D. Hirsch’s biggest fans.”