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School District 65 administrators issued a progress report on meeting the three-year goals (2008-11) that were adopted by the School Board on Sept. 22, 2008. The three goals are improve academic achievement; maintain financial solvency with budgets that support district priorities; and create healthy and safe work environments that support 21st century teaching and learning.

In a memorandum to the Board, Superintendent Hardy Murphy gave a broad overview of achievement. He said, “A review of District 65 student achievement shows a multi-year trend of academic achievement. Overall, District 65 students show greater improvement than for comparable groups of students across the state. The achievement gap between and among student subgroups is less now than it was years ago.”

He added, “Preliminary analyses of student achievement this year show continued improvement. This is true overall and for some student subgroups. However, the gains are more inconsistent than in previous years and in some instances less significant.”

He cautioned, “In general, this year’s achievement profile suggest that the instructional initiatives that have been in place for a number of years are ‘topping out’ and that it is important to develop and implement with fidelity strategies and programs to create a more powerful learning experience for our students.”

The report focuses primarily on 11 strategies being used to improve student achievement. Many of the strategies “focus upon ensuring that more students are able to thrive in the general education classrooms.”

About six years ago, the District shifted its focus from providing interventions to struggling students in pull-out programs to providing them with supports pushed into the general education classroom. Last year, the District implemented an initiative to include more students with a disability in the general education classroom.

It has thus become increasingly important to improve differentiated instruction and to provide effective interventions in the classroom.

The report contains no data on student achievement. Administrators plan to present an achievement report in October.

The report was scheduled to be presented at the Board’s Aug. 16 and Sept. 13 meetings, but the presentation was deferred because of lengthy discussions on other issues.

Implement Layered Instruction

An essential part of the District’s instructional model is to provide differentiated instruction to meet the needs of each student. One strategy is to “implement layered instructional activities that support the District’s literacy program.” Layered instructional activities provide various activities at various difficulties within the same lesson, and provide a way for a teacher to differentiate instruction for a wide range of abilities.

The report says teachers have been provided professional development to assist them to differentiate instruction and to develop lesson plans containing layered instructional activities. Teachers will be required to submit lesson plans for review twice a month. “Principals regularly review teacher lesson plans and conduct both formal and informal classroom observations to ensure that layered instructional activities are in place during literacy instruction,” says the report.

A review of the lesson plans “suggests that lesson planning is occurring for teachers in reading/language arts and math at a rate of 91%,” says the report. Based on a survey of lesson plans for fifth and sixth grades, planning objectives are present in 83% of the lesson plans.

Improve Capacity to Deliver More Interventions in the Classroom

Another strategy is to improve the District’s capacity to deliver more interventions in the regular classroom for both struggling students and students with a disability who have an individual education program (IEP).

“Response to Interventions (Rti) provides a framework for ensuring that students receive high-quality instruction and interventions matched to their needs,” says the report. Under Rti, teachers develop instructional intervention plans for individual students and monitor periodically whether the plan is being met and is effective.

The report says the role of school staff has been redefined to more effectively implement the intervention plans. For example, reading specialists serve as intervention specialists; behavioral specialists are providing services in the classroom; school psychologists participate in Rti meetings to help coordinate and monitor interventions for students with a disability.

“By looking at the progress and growth by school, grade level, and classroom we target support and interventions with concentrated resources,” said Dr. Murphy. He said “instructional support teams” consisting of expert teachers will work collaboratively with identified grade level teams, teachers and classrooms.

In addition, a cadre of teachers will be allocated to work with schools that have high percentages of students from low-income households, he said. This cadre of teachers will carry an “academic caseload” of students in each school and provide “push-in supports” during the school day and also after-school support for identified students. They will also be expected to develop a working relationship with parents and guardians of the students in their “caseload,” conduct home visits, and coordinate activities between the home and the school.

An extended-day program will target students who are not meeting literacy standards. Last year a total of 1,006 students were served in the extended day program, up by 147 students over the prior year.

Increase the Use of Co-teaching

Another strategy is to increase the use of co-teaching in the classroom. “Co-teaching is a model that creates the opportunities to deliver more instructional interventions in the classroom,” says the report.

Last year, the amount of co-teaching was increased as part of the implementation of the “inclusion” program, under which more students with a disability were included in the general education classroom than in prior years. In that context, a general education teacher and a special education teacher paired up and co-taught a class for a portion of the day. The report says co-teaching occurred in 37 sections last year.

The report says the District’s inclusion initiative “afforded an opportunity to serve more students with IEPs within the general education classrooms,” and “resulted in an increase in the percentage of students receiving services in less restrictive environments.”

The report says anecdotal feedback indicates that the “daily interactions of students with IEPs had with their peers in the general education classroom enhanced their academic and social progress.

“As principals develop their school schedules, co-teaching opportunities are identified and scheduled as needed or as appropriate,” says the report.

Professional Development

The effective implementation of all the District’s initiatives “requires ongoing professional development,” Dr. Murphy said. “Teacher professional development focuses upon developing the capacity to address the instructional needs of students across the academic spectrum through differentiation and intervention.” He added that the new teacher appraisal system “measures teaching and learning and helps identify areas of strengths and weakness.

“This year, our professional development effort will be redefined to use the specific characteristics and needs evident in our District’s achievement profile as a point of departure. Our presenters will have the District achievement profile in the conceptualization of professional development activities and content,” he said.

The District offers professional development during teacher planning time, District meeting time, building meeting time, school improvement days, and institute days, says the report.

Enrichment Activities

One strategy is to create an array of high quality enrichment opportunities to enhance the curriculum. “An enrichment period is included in the elementary school day schedule to provide enriched arts, music, and library studies, says the report. Funding is allocated for schools to pay teacher stipends for some after-school enrichment activities. …Additionally PTAs sponsor after-school enrichment activities.”

The report says funds have been allocated in the 2010-11 budget to provide project-based, hands-on learning opportunities such as in robotics and digital arts (animation, film making). The District also plans to pilot enrichment programs in mathematics with the use of “math circles” and in literacy through fine arts drama as an after school program. “Teachers also will be given the opportunity to develop academic support enrichment experiences to motivate students who are struggling academically,” says the report.

Create Effective Parent-School Partnerships

The District appears to be increasing it focus on parental involvement. The District trained principals and selected team members on the Johns Hopkins Family Involvement initiative in the fall of 2009, and each principal established a parent advisory team and school improvement plans include parent involvement.

The District implemented the “Start Smart” initiative in early 2010 to develop partnerships with families of at-risk children to assist in the education of their children. The program was implemented at the pre-k level, and will be expanded to the third grade level on a year by year basis.

Additional Strategies

The report summarizes many other initiatives to improve student achievement, including to improve instructional leadership of principals, strengthen the bilingual program, strengthen and expand the pre-k program.

Common Core State Standards

The Illinois State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards on June 24 as Illinois’ new learning standards for K-12 students. The standards lay out year-by-year what children should learn in math and English-language arts.

Last year, Illinois joined 48 other states and territories to develop the standards. In preparing these standards, educators first developed college and career-readiness standards that define the skills students need to succeed in “”college entry courses and in workforce training programs.””  They then worked back from the college and career-readiness standards to develop the K-12 standards.

Dr. Murphy’s memo says that over the summer a group of 12 District 65 teachers revised the District’s reading curriculum guide to include changes recommended by current research and the Common Core State Standards.

As to the math curriculum, he said the Common Core State Standards “”represent some significant changes in the teaching and learning of mathematics. …Incorporating all of the standards will take an extended period of time.””

He said Suzanne Farrand, mathematics curriculum coordinator of District 65, and Lisa Bernstein, a third grade teacher at Bessie Rhodes magnet school, are working with other educators at the University of Chicago to incorporate, as possible, the new standards into the District’s math curriculum, Everyday Mathematics.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...