Details and Actions Steps for Community Concern Regarding High School English Language Arts Instructional Materials

Background

Approximately every 10 years the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency review and revise the state standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, that are taught in Texas public schools. As part of that process, the State of Texas undergoes the adoption of new instructional materials in cycles called proclamations

In the Spring of 2020, we adopted new instructional materials for secondary English Language Arts (ELA) according to Proclamation 2020 as outlined below:

Proclamation 2020

  • State Adoption, Fall 2019 
  • Board Approved Framework for the Materials, March 2020
  • Materials Ordered, Spring 2020 
  • Implementation, 2020–21 School Year 
    • English Language Arts and Reading, English I–IV 
    • ELA Electives 
    • English for Speakers of Other Languages I and II 
    • English Learners Language Arts, 7–8 

What is the Board of Trustees’ role in the selection of instructional materials?

A board shall select instructional materials in an open meeting as required by the Texas Open Meetings Act, including public notice. 19 TAC 66.104(a)

The Board of Trustees was presented with the framework for selecting ELA instructional materials along with the recommended resources for adoption during the March 12, 2020 Board meeting and was approved at the March 26, 2020 Board meeting

How did we select these books?

Leander ISD developed a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum aligning to the new state standards and provides guidance for teachers. As a part of the new curriculum for our students, we created two book club reading opportunities for each high school ELA course, and 15 titles for each book club unit were selected and vetted by the Curriculum Design Team: a group of curriculum specialists, general education teachers, special education teachers, ESL teachers, instructional coaches, and librarians. The 15 titles include a wide range of reading levels and topics.

Unfortunately, the Spring 2020 review process occurred during the time we closed our buildings, staff was working virtually and we were not allowing non-essential employees in the buildings due to COVID. As a result of this unprecedented time, we chose not to purchase and mail copies of every book title to each teacher to read and review. We recognize this was an important piece of the process we missed. By over-relying on written professional reviews from publishers, common sense media, library journals, etc. and not utilizing the trusted LISD lens to make these decisions, we failed our community. We acknowledge some books containing passages that raised concerns from students, teachers, parents, and community members made it through this flawed vetting process and for this we apologize to our students, families and community for this breakdown in trust and the process.

What are Student Choice Book Clubs? 

Students select their book from the book club list. Teachers may suggest titles based on a student’s interests and reading level, but ultimately the student owns the choice. Parents are also offered an opportunity to review books prior to students selecting titles.  This process has been tightened through the CCAC work this Fall/Spring. With approximately 15 book club titles in each unit, the titles represent a variety of reading levels to facilitate independent reading, as well as a variety of topics, voices, and cultures. Supported by the teacher and a “book club” of peers reading the same title, students will read, respond to, analyze, and critique the title they have selected. This work takes place in book club discussions, student-teacher conferences, writers’ notebook entries, and written analyses. Students participate in one student choice book club each semester, running approximately ten to fourteen class sessions each.

Do the TEKS require Graphic novels to be taught?

The TEKS call for multiple genres and analyzing graphic features, however, Graphic novels are not specifically mentioned in the TEKS:

  • Multiple genres: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking using multiple texts‐‐genres. The student recognizes and analyzes genre‐specific characteristics, structures, and purposes within and across increasingly complex traditional, contemporary, classical, and diverse texts. The student is expected to analyze characteristics of multimodal and digital texts.
  • Author’s purpose and craft: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking using multiple texts. The student uses critical inquiry to analyze the authors’ choices and how they influence and communicate meaning within a variety of texts. The student analyzes and applies the author’s craft purposefully in order to develop his or her own products and performances. The student is expected to evaluate the author’s use of print and graphic features to achieve specific purposes.

The CCAC book review teams reviewed several resources to gain a better understanding of the intent and purpose of using graphic novels in high school:

  • Graphic novel unit of study designed to help CCAC members understand the learning outcomes in the English II graphic novel unit of study.
  • Graphic novel hyperdoc created to support CCAC members evaluating the graphic novels to understand the role graphic novels play in reading and writing.

What are we currently doing to address this situation? 

We asked the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee (CCAC) to vet all high school English Language Arts student choice book club selections. Our teachers are not using book club titles until they have been thoroughly reviewed through the rigorous CCAC process.

We have assigned a team of Continuous Improvement Facilitators from various departments (outside of language arts) trained specifically for this type of activity, to lead the work in the CCAC meetings. Currently, more than 200 parents, community members, educators, and additional campus representatives including counselors, librarians, instructional coaches, principals/APs are engaged in the vetting process. Each volunteer chose whether or not to participate with each review cycle resulting in a different group of volunteers for each review cycle. The committee is vetting all 140 book club titles added to our existing collections, by grade level and unit of study, throughout the fall and spring semester. The vetting process encompasses reading each title, discussing in small groups, assessing each book based on specific criteria, and making recommendations to keep, remove, or pull a title pending further review. 

The CCAC page has a detailed set of review cycle summaries and recommendations. We have completed seven cycles and are currently working through the eighth. We have completed the review of 105 book titles through this process. Those details are posted on our CCAC webpage, as will the results of additional review cycles.

What is the process of assigning volunteers books to review?

Each CCAC volunteer was randomly assigned one or two titles to read per cycle. Random selections were based on when volunteers signed up to participate in the CCAC process. For example, the first person to sign up read book 1, the second person to sign up read book 2, and so on. After the random assignments were made, the groups were checked to ensure no singular book club group was made up of only volunteers from one feeder pattern or had volunteers who were all in the same role (parent, librarian, teacher, etc.).

What is the criteria used to vet the books?

  1. Vetting and Review Criteria (established by CCAC Continuous Improvement Cycle #4 March 2021):
    • Diversity: Exposes students to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences; students see themselves in the books 
    • Student Appeal: Variety of reading levels and topics
    • Literary Merit: Awards, positive professional reviews, compelling characters, exemplary author’s craft, and storytelling
    • Alignment to Curricular Goals: The text matches the unit focus and can be used to teach the English Language Arts skills specific to the unit of study
    • Student Navigation of Text, Topics, and Themes: Is the content sensitive? Is the content age-appropriate? Can the book stand on its own without needing a lot of supplemental adult support? Will students understand what is going on?
  1. Based on the criteria listed above, the volunteer assigns the book one of the following ratings and has an opportunity to comment if there are concerns or further advisement is needed
    • Keep as Selection: Adequately Meets Criteria (listed above)
    • Keep, but may require advisement (commenting available) 
    • Concerns in this area sufficient to consider removal from the book club list (commenting available)

The results of each review cycle for the Board and community will be posted on the CCAC web page under the Review Cycles Summary & Recommendations section

What are the next steps? 

The Board formed a policy committee as part of a comprehensive review of the district’s policies. Policy concerning curriculum adoption is included in this districtwide review. The administration will bring policy proposals through this subcommittee of the Board before a recommendation is brought to the entire Board. After listening to the concerns from our community, our administrators are currently working on drafting verbiage for board policy providing additional guidance for the selection of instructional resources including books for the assigned courses. As part of this policy review process, the district will continue to meet with stakeholder groups to shape possible revisions. In the case of curriculum adoption, this will include the CCAC. 

What is the district doing as a result of concerning discourse amongst community members and this issue of books and instructional materials?

Our district administration balances the private and individual rights of our community members with the operation of our schools and programs. We hear and see the discourse and discussion in our community about the high school English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. The actions of individuals in our community targeting others on social media and with the delivery of inappropriate mail are totally unacceptable. As a community, we owe it to each other to treat one another with respect and dignity.

We want everyone to feel included in the discussions around their schools and our students’ learning. We appreciate you sharing your concerns and share your concern about parents feeling welcomed to speak in our public board meetings and other public forums. 

All volunteers in Leander ISD agree to our Volunteer Guidelines when registering for service each year. The registration process allows us to do a national background check on our volunteers and the guidelines provide rules and procedures for supporting our schools. If a volunteer violates our guidelines, the action and possible removal of the volunteer or adjustment to their volunteer role will be determined by the leadership in place in the roles where they serve. For example, a volunteer who serves on a committee may be removed from a role at the decision of the committee’s membership and district or school leaders facilitating the committee. 

Volunteers have first amendment rights and their involvement with the district does not prevent them from exercising free speech. While we hope a person would use their free speech to continue a productive dialogue, we do not have the authority to infringe upon that right.

Thank you for partnering with LISD as we strive to continuously improve our systems and processes. We pledge to continue listening to community feedback and making necessary adjustments.

Letter from Superintendent Addressing Community Concerns

Book Club List