Grand Forks Public Schools officials hopeful new sixth-grade English curriculum will boost proficiency

Agreement with curriculum provider "Wit and Wisdom" is for 13 years

Grand Forks Public Schools

GRAND FORKS – Three weeks after school board members approved an addition to its sixth-grade English curriculum, Grand Forks Public Schools officials are hopeful the change will spur improvements in proficiency and lead to expansion to other grade levels.

The district has purchased the curriculum called "Wit and Wisdom," at a cost of $320,046 for 13 years, or $54.99 per student per year. Additionally, $52,500 of the district’s spending will go toward professional development for faculty members. The funds were budgeted from the district’s general fund, according to Business Manager Brandon Baumbach.

According to Amy Bartsch, chief academic officer for Grand Forks Public Schools, the district is using Wit and Wisdom to adopt a formal curriculum resource, in line with state standards. Bartsch hopes Wit and Wisdom will address declining proficiency rates among middle school students.

“When we look at assessments the district uses to measure proficiency such as the Star Renaissance, we can see there has been a decline in the proficiency level of the middle 50% of students that continues from sixth to eighth grade,” said Bartsch. “We take this data and examine it from a number of factors, such as if our instruction is meeting students’ needs through differentiation. We also look at whether our curriculum resource is aligned with standards. We discovered that with sixth grade, there wasn’t a formal curriculum resource, so we worked with teachers to go through the adoption process.”

The district then employed a half-year-long pilot program in which two supplemental curriculum materials were introduced – Wit and Wisdom and Amplify – to sixth-grade classrooms. Bartsch said that when compared to Amplify, Wit and Wisdom’s results were superior.


“The quality of writing improved significantly during the pilot,” said Bartsch. “The students’ ability to communicate effectively, and decode texts through Wit and Wisdom’s curriculum, proved far greater than the results we saw from students who were exposed to Amplify.”

Lainie Augensen, implementation leader at Great Minds, the educational provider administering Wit and Wisdom, said its curriculum places a heavy focus on developing reading improvement strategies.

“Wit and Wisdom’s curriculum materials are anchored in the science of reading,” said Augensen. “Our goal is to introduce students to complex texts, helping them develop strategies to understand and process the written word.”

Wit and Wisdom’s materials are also multidisciplinary – incorporating historical concepts and visual arts into students’ reading and writing assignments.

“The first unit in sixth grade explores how characters respond to challenges during the Great Depression,” said Augensen. “Students also gain experience contextualizing different forms of visual art. Students who may have deficits in reading or difficulty accessing texts find art to be a leveling tool, where all students can engage in analysis and build confidence to participate in class discussions.”

Moving forward, Bartsch says the district plans to expand a pilot of Wit and Wisdom to its seventh- and eighth-grade students, pending a review of financial feasibility. Bartsch also said the district will be closely monitoring student progress, and is confident Wit and Wisdom will have a positive impact on proficiency.

“Whenever you are intentional about professional development, and allow educators to collaborate around a formal resource, the expected outcome is improved proficiency,” said Bartsch.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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