On June 15, School District 65 administrators presented an outline listing strategies to achieve the 37 long-term goals contained in the District’s five-year strategic plan that was adopted by the Board on March 16. With the exception of a third-grade reading goal, there are no measurable targets or benchmarks for any of the goals or strategies.

The School Board needs to clarify for itself, the administration, teachers and the community what it expects to accomplish with the five-year strategic plan. Because the plan lacks measurable targets and benchmarks, there is no way to measure success and no way to hold anyone accountable.

The District’s Strategic Plan Committee, comprised of administrators, teachers and parents, spent a year hammering out the strategic plan. During the year-long process, the Committee’s facilitator repeatedly told the Committee the long-term goals should be general in nature and provide a focus or direction. He said the School Board should put meat on the goals. On an annual basis, he said, the School Board should select goals to focus on for the year and set measurable targets or benchmarks for those goals.

In its discussion of a timeline for the strategic plan on June 15, the School Board did not discuss measurable targets or benchmarks for any goal or for any strategy proposed by the administration to achieve the goal. The Board has not defined the end result it expects to achieve.

For example, one long-term goal is to successfully implement differentiated instruction. While this goal goes to the heart of the District’s instructional program, there is no measurable target of success. What criteria will be used to measure whether effective differentiated instruction is taking place? Does the Board want it to be taking place in every classroom? If so, how will that be measured? Does the Board want to make sure differentiated instruction is supporting, challenging and enriching every student? If so, how will that be measured?

By failing to set measurable targets and benchmarks, there are no goals. There is no way to measure success. There is no accountability. We urge the Board to step back and set measurable targets and benchmarks for the long-term goals in the strategic plan.

Too often the Board has appeared to rely on improved ISAT scores as an indicator of success. We think continued reliance on the ISATs is unwarranted and shortchanges many children. Here is why:

• “The Proficiency Illusion,” a study conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, concluded that a substantial portion of the gains on the ISATs has been attributable to a change in the tests in 2006 which made it easier to meet standards.

• A study conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago concluded that students who just “meet” standards on the ISATs are demonstrably not prepared for high school and beyond.

• Only about one-third of Illinois fourth- and eighth-graders performed at a proficient level on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress test; More than twice as many – 80 percent – met standards on the 2007 ISATs.

• District 65 eighth-graders have made substantial progress on the ISATs in the last seven years; during that same period they have made virtually no progress on the EXPLORE test, a test which the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has been recommending.

• Last week, Advance Illinois, an education reform group co-chaired by former Governor Jim Edgar and former Secretary of Commerce William Daley, issued a report reaffirming its conclusion that the ISATs are based on “flawed standards and low expectations.”

• Even ISBE is not sanguine about the State’s current standards. It announced on June 1 that it was joining 48 other states and territories to develop common learning standards in English and math for elementary and secondary students.

We recognize that the District is required to make Annual Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, and that AYP is measured by the ISATs. The District’s primary obligation, though, is to educate students and prepare students for high school and beyond. Meeting standards on the ISATs is not a valid indicator of whether students are prepared for high school and beyond.

The Board just approved using a mix of assessments (not including the ISATs) to measure student growth as part of the teacher evaluation process. School District 202 uses a mix of measures to assess incoming freshmen. The District 65 School Board should start using a mix of measures to evaluate student growth and achievement.

The Board should also start evaluating data on student growth beyond the number of students in the meets or exceeds categories, or the number of students in a given quartile. We think more refined breakdowns of the data are necessary to determine whether the District is challenging and enriching all students and providing a rigorous curriculum.