On June 15 the District 65 administration is scheduled to present strategies to implement the District’s five-year strategic plan that was approved by the Board on March 16.
At the Board’s June 1 meeting, Superintendent Hardy Murphy listed four goals from the strategic plan he thought the District should focus on next year: implement differentiated instruction/enrichment activities; take steps to ensure that by the end of third-grade students enrolled in the District for four continuous years are reading at grade level; aggressively push for inclusion of students with a disability; and ensure that teachers are able to use technology in the classroom.
These are all initiatives the District has been working on for many years. It is only in the several years, however, that the District has begun to address them with more comprehensive models. We think it is important that the Board ensure that these initiatives are effectively implemented in the classroom.
Effective implementation of these initiatives in the classroom ultimately depends on the District’s providing comprehensive professional development. To be effective, District administrators have said professional development must be intensive – 50 hours of more per topic in the course of a school year.
In the last year the District has made significant strides in improving and expanding its professional development program. We hear that many teachers rave about the workshops provided on the Tomlinson model of differentiated instruction, and that they give high marks to the lesson studies. The Board needs to build on this momentum.
The Board should establish baselines, benchmarks and goals to ensure there is intensive, ongoing professional development, including adequate time for workshops and for planning, collaboration, coaching and mentoring. The Board should also establish goals to ensure that principals are enabling learning communities among the teachers in their schools.
The Board should also establish baselines and benchmarks for other strategies. For example, how much co-teaching is going on now; what is the goal in five years? How much push-in support is going on now; what is the goal in five years? How many teachers are using differentiated instruction effectively now; what is the goal in five years? How many teachers are using technology effectively now, what is the goal in five years?
Too often in the past the Board adopted goals that lacked strong assessment components to ascertain whether an initiative is being effectively implemented in the classroom. In moving ahead with the strategic plan, the Board should adopt benchmarks which will facilitate effective assessment of implementation in the classroom – where all of this really matters.
Third, the strategic plan contains goals to ensure that students graduating from the District have the skills they need to be successful in high school and adult life. The Board should determine how to evaluate whether the District is achieving that goal.
One critical step, we think, is for the Board to stop using “meeting standards” on the ISATs as an acceptable level of achievement. A recent study prepared by the Consortium on Chicago Research at the University of Chicago (CCRUC) found that eighth-graders who just “meet” standards on the ISATs have less than a 10 percent chance of achieving high enough scores on the ACT in 11th grade to demonstrate readiness for college work. These students, then, who just “meet” standards on the ISATs are demonstrably not prepared for high school and beyond in today’s economy.
We think the Board should look beyond the ISATs and explore candidly whether we are in fact preparing our children for high school and beyond, and how that should be assessed. Painful as this process of exploration and evaluation might be, we think it must be done. As stated in the CCRUC report, “Having such low academic standards [on the ISATs] in the eighth grade serves no one well, least of all the students who eke through and then are surprised to find themselves unprepared to do well in high school, let alone college.”
Relying on flawed testing measures cannot be justified when our children’s futures are at stake.
Finally, there are numerous other goals in the strategic plan that need to be addressed. One that stands out is a financial one: How to address projected deficits of $20 million over the next five years.