Story Student Success

The CSU’s Impact on High School Literacy

Alex Beall, Hazel Kelly

The Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum helps strengthen literacy skills for hundreds of thousands of California high school students.

Courtesy of ​Jason Halley/Chico State


​​For 20 years, the CSU-led Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum (ERWC) has prepared high school students for college and their future careers by helping them develop critical thinking and rhetorical literacy skills.

Implemented in about 1,000 high schools across California, the English language arts curriculum for 11th and 12th grades is designed for A-G approved English classes and prepares students for college-level writing courses.

"When students take ERWC in high school, they are better academically prepared to succeed at the CSU,” says Zee Cline, executive director of CSU Educator and Leadership Programs. “The focus is on expository, or nonfiction writing, and really teaching students how to cite evidence for a claim and be more analytical in their reading skills."

To encourage students to think critically and deeply, teachers incorporate ERWC modules from a variety of topic categories into their classes. The 12th grade curriculum includes Shakespeare drama, full-length books and contemporary issues while the 11th grade curriculum features American foundational documents, American drama, full-length books, research and contemporary issues.

Chris Street, an ERWC trainer and professor of secondary education at Cal State Fullerton says, "I used to teach first-year writing courses at San Diego State, and I wished my students then had had an ERWC to prepare them for that course because that would've been such a bonus for them if they'd had that kind of a high school experience."

The curriculum—developed by CSU faculty, staff and K-12 educators, including Street—is guided by a set of key principles, such as interactive reading and writing processes, deep engagement with texts, materials and themes that interest students and classroom activities that develop active readers and writers, among others.

"We try and build a curriculum around the interests of students," Street says. "So, there are modular units (we call them modules) on things like fast food, cell phones and juvenile justice, and all these topics that are timely and important for kids. The curriculum engages students with high interest readings."

The ERWC faculty consistently work to improve and expand the program. For example, the curriculum was recently expanded and revised to align with the California Standards for English Language Arts and English Language Development. In addition, ERWC now includes English Language Development modules for grades 9 through 12, and faculty recently developed a full ERWC curriculum, along with English Language Development modules, for grades 7 through 10.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced a $15 million grant for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools to work with the CSU on the development of an ERWC year-long curriculum for grades 9 and 10.

To help schools implement ERWC in their classrooms, the CSU offers free professional learning workshops for teachers, available in-person, in a hybrid format and online. Teachers who complete the workshops get free, lifetime access to instructive curriculum materials through the ERWC Community website.

The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has recognized the program as effective in meeting its highest evidence-based standards, after reviewing the 2022 report, "Expanding the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum: An Evaluation of an Investing in Innovation Validation Grant​." WWC also cited the ERWC in a practice guide on proven strategies for helping secondary students to write effectively. Other studies on the program found that high school students who participated in the 12th grade ERWC curriculum scored higher on standardized tests than other students.

"The ERWC has been proven to be successful now for two decades," Street says. "​We've had a couple generations of kids going through this. It started small and was successful because teachers enjoyed seeing how engaged their kids were with the curriculum. And that reason for the sustained success of the program is really the same. It's just a very engaging curriculum, and it works. It works to get kids ready—especially for college-level first year writing courses."

Schools interested in adopting the yearlong course may submit a two-page application to the CSU. Once implemented, the class can be added to the school's list of UC-approved "A-G" courses.

Visit the EWRC website to learn more about the curriculum, apply, find workshops and access teacher resources.

Preparing for College