At the Aug. 3 School Board meeting, District 65 administrators presented a revised outline containing proposed strategies to implement 37 individual goals contained in the District’s five-year strategic plan that was adopted by the Board in March. The outline also lists “measures” for each goal and a timeline for administrators to report to the Board on the progress for the goal.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the “measures” would be the “concrete demonstration as to whether a goal has been met.” The Board’s discussion centered on whether the proposed measures provided adequate measurable targets. The Board did not complete its review of the measures and is expected to consider the issue again in September.

Big Ideas

The strategic plan contains a goal to “Ensure that the curriculum enables students to discover big ideas/essential learnings through reflection, critical thinking, problem solving, conceptual understanding…” Dr. Murphy said this was an important goal. “There was a lot of discussion about making sure we had a curriculum that challenged students and that dealt with the big ideas and critical thinking,” he said.

The strategies to implement this goal include using the understanding-by-design model of instructional planning, continuing to implement differentiated instruction, and implementing the revised teacher appraisal system. The proposed “measures” for this goal are “Principal review of lesson plans; revised curriculum documents; teacher evaluation documents; curriculum audit.”

Members of the Board did not appear to be satisfied with the proposed measures as a target for this goal. Ms. Quattrocki proposed using a parent survey and other measures; Dr. Murphy said the Board could retain an outside consultant to audit lesson plans; Ellen Fogelberg, director of literacy, suggested that principals could review the quality of lesson plans and conduct walk-throughs of classrooms. The Board did not resolve how to set a target for this goal.

The Curriculum and Instruction

Last year the District adopted the Tomlinson model of differentiated instruction, together with interventions, to address the needs of all students in the same general classroom. The strategic plan states as goals: “Successfully implement a program of diffentiated instruction and enrichment that will address the needs of each individual student,” and “Implement effective interventions and supports to ensure success for all students.” The plan also calls for implementing “technology-mediated instruction throughout the District,” which has been recognized as a means to assist teachers to differentiate instruction.

The strategies to address these goals include: continue implementation of the differentiation and enrichment plan, implement Response to Intervention, provide push-in supports and co-teaching, and continue with professional development. The proposed measures for these goals are:

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The “measures” for successfully implementing differentiated instruction are: “professional development calendar and evaluations; assessment data; monitor classroom schedules; teacher evaluation documents.”

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The proposed “measures” for the intervention goal are: “high numbers of students graduating D65 meeting state standards in math, reading, science and social studies; full implementation of the reading language arts curriculum; articulation meeting agenda and minutes; extended day enrollment/attendance data; and curriculum audit.”

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The “measures” for implementing technology mediated instruction are: “Classroom observations, lesson plans and appraisals.”

While the Board’s discussion on the need for measueable targets for the three-year goals suggests they may want to firm up targets for these goals (see story on page 24), the Board deferred discussion of these measures to a later meeting.

In addition, there is no “student achievement” goal that would measure whether students at all levels, including struggling students, students with an IEP and high-achieving students, are receiving differentiated instruction that challenges them.

Special Education

The strategic plan contains goals that the District “increase age-appropriate disability awareness in grades k-8” and “ensure inclusion of students with disabilities in all programs to the maximum extent appropriate.” In order to address concerns raised by parents that programs for special education services were frequently shifted from one school to another, the strategic plan includes a goal to “maximize continuity of program placement for special needs students and other specialized programs.”

Many of the strategies to implement these goals are currently underway. They include implementing the first phase of the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten inclusion models which are scheduled to begin this school year, implementing an inclusion model and offering more in-class supports, implementing a program placement model that looks for ways to increase continuity of placement, and implementing an effective strategy to increase age-appropriate disability awareness.

The “measures” of the inclusion goal are “Review of IEPs; increased percent of students participating in general education instructional environments.” Dr. Murphy said the District would establish a baseline and determine year by year whether more students were receiving instruction in the general education classroom. Members of the Board appeared to agree it would be inappropriate to set a fixed percentage increase as a target because the instructional environment of students is determined by their individual educational program (IEP).

Proposed measures for the other goals – implementing a disablitly awareness curriculum and conducting disability awareness activities at the schools, and providing an explaination to the Board for any change in a program placement – appeared satisfactory to the Board.

Student Achievement Targets

The adminstration proposes to use student achievement as a measure of success for only three goals contained in the strategic plan. The strategic plan contains a goal to “ensure by the end of third grade, students enrolled in the District for four continuous years are reading at grade level.” The proposed “measure” for this goal is “Summative achievement data: ISAT, MAP, DRA, ISEL.” Board members discussed whether the goal would be achieved if 95 percent of the third-graders read at grade level, and discussed yearly benchmarks to achieve the goal.

Second, one proposed “measure” of whether academic interventions are successful is “high numbers of at risk students meeting and exceeding state standards.”

Third, the strategic plan contains a goal to “ensure that students graduating from the District have the necessary skills to be successful in high school and adult life.” The proposed “measure” is: “high numbers of students graduating D65 meeting state standards in math, reading, science and social studies.”

Based on the Board’s discussion of the goals for the three-year plan (see story on page 24), it appears some Board members will want to quantify the term “high numbers” as used in these two goals and to use a mix of tests, rather than just the ISATs, to determing if this goal is met.

Using a Mix of Tests

At the conclusion of the discussion on the strategic plan, Ms. Quattrocki said, “I thought we were in agreement that we’d like to see more data on student achievement and I’m not sure where it’s expressed in our strategic plan. I think we all said we’d like to see the MAP, the EXPLORE, the ISAT results together for a broader array of measures. ‘Can we make that firm?,’she asked.

Ms. Lockhart said, “I thought we also had a conversation that discussed this wasn’t a realistic thing to say that we’d be doing right now because some of the information is to diagnose learning and other parts of it are to measure learning. So in looking at our strategic plan, I think we need to focus on the kind of information the accountability report [which reports ISAT results] gives us on academic achievement.”

Ms. Quattrocki said, “I was under the impression that we wanted to see that data [MAP, EXPLORE and ISAT] and incorporate it into our goals.” Mr. Terry said, “I thought we were closer to where Ms. Quattrocki is.”

Dr. Murphy said it is a validation issue for the community. “We don’t have a problem with reporting out those other test results,” he said. “If you guys want to know what the ISEL test scores are, what the MAP test scores are, what the DRA results are, we’ll give that to you and that will be part of the achievement report. It’s not part of the strategic plan, …but we’ll just let you know what those test results are.”

In measuring whether students are prepared for high school, the testing instrument used may be significant. District 65 eighth-graders have made substantial gains on the ISATs during the period 2002 to 2008, with the highest gains being made by minority students. For example, 42% of District 65 black eighth-graders met or exceeded standards on the 2002 ISATs; the percentage jumped to 75% on the 2008 ISATs. During the same period, however, they made virtually no progress on the EXPLORE test. They had an average score of 14.1 on the EXPLORE test in 2001-2002, and an average score of 14.2 in 2007-2008.

Paul Brinson, chief information officer, said District 65 students are doing well on the EXPLORE test, with about 80 percent of the students performing above the 50th-percentile rank nationally.

A recent study prepared by researchers with the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago concluded that the ISATs set low academic standards for eighth-graders. “Students who just meet the state standard … have virtually no chance of getting to 20 on the ACT,” concludes the report. “The average ACT score for students who ‘meet standards’ is 17.5 … and a very small portion of them reach 20.” According to the report, students who barely make their way into the “Exceeds category” on the eighth-grade ISATs have a 62 percent chance of reaching 20 on the ACT. The benchmark for college readiness on the ACT is 21.25.

The study says, “Having such low academic standards in 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.”

Other Goals

The strategic plan contains numerous other goals addressing professional development, family support and input, magnet schools, and facilities and finance. Many of the strategies to implement these goals are already underway.

One new initiative is to conduct a parent satisfaction survey on an annual basis. Ms. Quattrocki suggested that the survey be conducted by an independent firm.