Curriculum Shifts at Cory

Posted October 22, 2015

2015 CSC Fall Forum…Join us!
Thursday, November 5, 2015
6:00-7:30 *
*plus optional opportunities occurring beginning at 5:00, please see below for details

Please join us for our CSC Fall Forum for Parents! Our twice annual forums are designed to let our community come together to discuss topics important to our students and our school. For our first forum of this year we will discuss the Denver 2020 plan that will be guiding our work as a district over the next several years. We’ll also talk about the DPS vision of a graduate and how we can reach that vision through classrooms that are joyful, rigorous, and personalized. We’ll discuss the shared learning expectations, or standards, that we have as a district and what they mean at Cory.

In addition, we will be doing a deep dive into the Math Standards with a special presentation on EngageNY Math and will end with a small group discussion on a variety of topics. We hope you can join us!

5:00-5:45- Auditorium- Balarat Parent Night (5th Grade Parents)- Please join us for important information on our upcoming Balarat Trip!
5:00-6:00- Library- English Language Learner Parent Advisory Committee Open House- Please stop by anytime for an informal Open House and meet our ELL Teachers, Jan Struharik and our new (to be announced soon!) teacher, as well as learn about our program here at Cory.
6:00-7:30- Library- Academic Standards and Curriculum Alignment

  • 6:00-6:15- Academic Standards & School Performance Framework (SPF) Update- Jennifer Harris, Principal
  • 6:15-7:00- Deep Dive into EngageNY Math- Courtney Waring, DPS Math Partner
  • 7:00-7:30- Small Group Discussion (topics TBD)

RSVP: Advance RSVP is not required, but is kindly requested. This will enable us to have enough materials for each participant. Childcare is NOT available for this night. Click HERE to RSVP.


I also wanted to take the time to give you an in-depth look at our recent shifts in curriculum at Cory. While this post is on the lengthy side, I felt it important to give you as much detail as possible regarding these shifts and what they mean for your child.

Recently, Denver Public Schools released an opportunity for schools to choose curricular resources, interim assessments and professional development to better match the needs of their individual school through the creation of the Flexibility Model. This model is a natural next step in the district’s journey towards fulfilling their vision that Every Child Succeeds and is also part of the Denver 2020 Plan.

In the beginning of June, schools were required to choose whether they would ‘opt in’ to district provided resources or ‘opt out of district resources, which required curriculum choices. We were required to give the district our decision with a quick turn around time to allow for them to organize both summer and beginning of the year professional development training. This decision was made as an entire staff with all 1st-5th grade teachers, Specials Teachers and Support Teachers reaching consensus on the decision we would make as a school that would best fit the unique needs of Cory.

Opting in to the Flexibility Model meant that schools would continue to receive financial assistance with curriculum, professional development and assessments. Opting out of this model would give schools greater flexibility in choices, but would also have the effect of an added financial burden to the already allocated school budget. For more information on the Flexibility Model visit

At Cory we chose to “opt in” to the Flexibility Model. Opting in allowed us to do the following:

Curriculum & Professional Development

Literacy Curriculum
We are piloting Benchmarks Advanced Literacy for grades 1-3 and are implementing the EL Education curriculum for grades 4 & 5. DPS provides the professional development for each of these Literacy programs.

Why the switch? For the past several years the district provided Literacy Units that aligned with the old Colorado Academic Standards. At the district level, much time was spent transitioning these units to the new standards, and it was found to have had many holes that teachers had to fill with outside resources. This past year was a literacy adoption year and we are grateful that the district has chosen to move to outside vendors that have written and designed curriculum that aligns to the new Colorado Academic Standards (CAS). The district formally adopted EL Education for grades 4 and 5 and is currently piloting other curricula in grades 1-3. (We have chosen to pilot Benchmark Advanced.)

In addition to the above, It was important that we chose a curriculum aligned with the CAS for the following reason:

“The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.” ~ Common Core State Standards Website

Benchmark Literacy Advanced and EL Education curricula are both research-proven solutions aligned to the standards and empowers both experienced teachers and beginning teachers with the following:

Benchmark Literacy Advanced (1st-3rd Grade):

  • 30 weeks of explicit comprehension-focused lessons for the whole class, small groups, and intervention
  • Assessment-driven instruction that is differentiated and includes responding to text
  • Gradual release of responsibility and built-in choice that support student progress and teacher creativity
  • Precisely leveled texts for our full range of students, including ELLs and striving readers
  • Leveled Reader’s Theater and diverse genres that engage students and extend learning
  • Research-based resources and professional development that have been proven effective
  • Interactive technology options that motivate student learning, involvement, and excellence

EL Education (4th/5th Grade):

  • Builds teachers capacity to ignite each student’s motivation, persistence, and compassion so they become active contributors to building a better world and succeed in school, college, career, and life.
  • Innovative curriculum, teacher-created resources, and model of professional coaching and support are anchored by a vision of student success that joins academic achievement, character, and high-quality work.
  • Design Principles: The design principles express the philosophy of education and core values of EL Education.
  1. The primacy of self-discovery- Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support.
  2. The having of wonderful ideas- Teaching in EL Education schools fosters curiosity about the world.
  3. The responsibility for learning- Learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity.
  4. Empathy and caring- Learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust.
  5. Success and failure- All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges.
  6. Collaboration and competition- Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear.
  7. Diversity and inclusion- Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others.
  8. The natural world- A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect.
  9. Solitude and reflection- Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas.
  10. Service and compassion- Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others.

What happened to Creative Writing? The Colorado Academic Standards foci is on students creating writing based on their reading, with a specific focus on providing text evidence. While in years’ past the focus of writing was centered around the creative element, the shift with the CAS has been for students to become critical thinkers and analytical writers. Specific teaching around creative writing has been replaced with narrative, informative/explanatory and opinion writing. However, creative writing is not gone! We encourage parents to consider another way of thinking about creative writing fits in with the new standards.

“ The best arguments are delightfully creative, and figuring out how to explain something in a lively fashion also takes plenty of creativity. The same craft that we use in the traditional modes of creative writing–fiction and poetry–can be beautifully applied to argumentative and informative/explanatory pieces (e.g., great poets “cut to the bone,” and so do great arguers; great storytellers include the most telling details, and so do great explainers). Furthermore, students can develop a love for writing through these college/career-focused modes of writing, and they can also find expression for their souls in these modes of writing, and they can also find an outlet for built up creative energy in these modes of writing. Granted, drawing the creative potential out of argumentative and informative/explanatory writing will take the work and energy and thought of our ELA tribe to fully develop over the next few years. Secondly, in the Common Core’s definition of narrative writing, both real and imaginary forms of narrative are encouraged, including short stories, memoirs, anecdotes, autobiographies, and more. This is a realm of classic creative writing.“ ~Dave Stuart, Educator

While the new standards have replaced what we all knew as “creative writing”, at Cory we believe that creative writing in its past definition is still an important piece to continue to consider. Grade Level Teams are currently in discussions on how to best weave this piece into instruction and will be in contact with parents about how they will be doing this. We will also continue to promote our annual Young Authors competition in support of the creative writing process.

Math Curriculum
We have chosen to utilize EngageNY Math for this school year. This year is a Math Adoption Year for DPS and EngageNY will likely be one of the choices to adopt permanently. DPS provides a Math Partner to come alongside and provide professional development and resources to the teachers as requested.

Why the Switch? After piloting EngageNY Units at several grades last year, we decided that this was a natural next step for Cory for two reasons. First, we feel that the EngageNY curriculum is more rigorous and asks more from our students, both in conceptual knowledge, and in the application of their learning in the problems that students are asked to do. It also focuses on attending to precision (one of the Standards of Mathematical Practices), which is an area where most students need assistance with developing more strategies to utilize. Secondly, EngageNY is more closely aligned with the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS). We spent a great deal of time over the past few years trying to supplement Everyday Math in order to prepare students to meet the standards, both for PARCC testing and in order to be prepared to enter the next grade and are excited to now implement EngageNY for 1st-5th Grade.

What are the differentiation opportunities with EngageNY?
Differentiation is a district-wide expectation. Enrichment and re-teaching opportunities are provided at each grade level and classroom and students receive differentiated instruction based on their individual needs. As we continue to familiarize ourselves with the EngageNY Curriculum, enrichment and re-teaching opportunities will align more closely with individual student learning in the classroom. Some of the enrichment opportunities include previewing concepts, Zaccaro’s Challenge Math, Zearn, Miquon Math, Khan Academy and project based learning. In addition, during our recent professional development training our DPS Math Partner provided us resources on how to integrate specific Math Projects into the classroom through a company called “Front Row”. These projects have real-life applications and they will be integrated in all classrooms throughout the year. We are constantly teaching students how to become problem solvers and critical thinkers, providing us the opportunity to bring in supplemental activities.


For the 2015/16 school year, DPS has partnered with the Achievement Network (ANet) to provide interim assessments that will be occurring for grades 3-5 in Math and Literacy. 1st and 2nd grade are not participating in the interim assessments but rather having frequent team-created classroom formative assessments. DPS chose ANet to provide assessments based on the following:

  • ANet has built a strong reputation – both in DPS and throughout the country – as a provider with high-quality assessments.
  • They offer a simple and intuitive platform that allows teachers to access results instantly.
  • Tests are administered online.
  • A quiz tool allows teachers to pull from item banks and create their own assessments throughout the year as needed.
  • ANet’s assessments accurately reflect the rigor of the Common Core and they will help teachers determine how well students have mastered the content.
  • Interims will be administered three times throughout the year, with a fourth window for formative assessment happening at the end of the year using a small-scale performance-based task, not a full scale interim.

In addition to the resources provided by ANet, over 32,000 Common Core-created assessment items have been made available to all DPS schools to support school-based efforts to develop additional formative assessments.

We will be sure to keep you updated as we continue to learn more about ANet and the resources available to parents. For now, please feel free to visit their website by clicking here.

Resources for Colorado Academic Standards, Math Curriculum, Literacy Curriculum and Assessments

The switch in our math and literacy curriculum is creating many new learning opportunities for teachers, students and parents! A great deal of the vocabulary, procedures and processes we have used in the past have changed, and we are working with students to approach math and literacy with fresh eyes. Please visit the following websites for more information on parent resources. In addition, contact your child’s teacher if you need additional resources and supports.

EngageNY Math
Benchmark Literacy Advanced (1st-3rd Grade)
EL Education (4th/5th Grade)
Common Core State Standards
Colorado Academic Standards
DPS Standards and Assessments
DPS Academic Strategic Plan
Vision of a DPS Graduate
Vision of a DPS Classroom
National PTA Parents’ Guide to Assessments in Colorado
A guide for parent and teachers on What to Expect For the 2015-16 School Year, created by Colorado Department of Education


We hope these resources are helpful to you!
In partnership,


Jennifer Harris