On Nov. 15, the District 65 School Board approved school improvement plans for the District as a whole and three schools: Oakton Elementary School, Washington Elementary School and Chute Middle School. The District is required to submit these plans to the Illinois State Board of Education because the District and these three schools failed to meet the annual yearly progress (AYP) targets of the No Child Left Behind Act on the 2010 Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISATs). 

The table below shows, on an aggregated basis, the percent of District 65 students in six different subgroups that met or exceeded standards in reading and math on the 2010 ISATs (“LEP” refers to students who are limited-English proficient): 

% D65 Students Meeting/Exceeding
           Standards on 2010 ISATs 

                     Reading   Math
Black                77           82
Hispanic            72           87
White                 97          98
LEP                    55           81
Low-Income      73           82
Disability           51           65 

The AYP target for the 2010 ISATs was that 77.5% of students in each student subgroup meet or exceed standards in reading and math or, alternatively, meet a “safe harbor” requirement. School District 65 as a whole did not meet AYP or the safe harbor requirement for students with disabilities in reading and math on the 2010 ISATs. 

LEP students, low-income students and Hispanic students did not meet the AYP target of 77.5% in reading, but they each met a safe harbor requirement. The District’s improvement plans says meeting AYP for these subgroups this year presents a challenge. 

 Four of the District’s schools failed to meet AYP in reading on the 2010 ISATs: Washington (Hispanic students), Lincolnwood (black and low-income students), Oakton (all and low-income students), and Chute (students with a disability). 

Most of the District’s schools were not subject to AYP requirements for LEP students or students with a disability because they had too few students in these groups to be subject to AYP reporting requirements. 

The Challenges Ahead 

The AYP target jumps this school year. In order to meet the AYP target for the 2011 ISATs, 85% of the students in each student subgroup must meet ISAT standards or satisfy a safe harbor requirement. 

On the 2010 ISATs, on an aggregated basis, students who scored better than 19% of the students in the state met standards. While the State attempted to set the benchmark to meet standards on the ISATs at the 38th national percentile, two national studies have found that it is set at about the 20th national percentile at the eighth-grade level. 

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “There’s a lot of talk about this being a low bar, but I can tell you when you start looking at the student categories – and I hate to say it like this – the kind of capabilities that you’re looking at – you look at all the students across the spectrum – remember that includes students with cognitive disabilities that are going to have to get across that low bar. It includes students who may have very involved learning disabilities that are going to have to get across the low bar. It includes students who are in self-contained classrooms who have various kinds of emotional disabilities that are going to have to get across the low bar. 

“The idea is that we’re going to have to put together some kind of intervention that’s going to affect even the needs of those students who have historically presented the greatest challenges. 

“We think we’re reaching a point where the number of students we have left to reach as far as this proficiency measure is concerned, it’s even more challenging. …The remaining students that we have to help become successful represents a very, very, very real challenge for us and our teachers in terms of addressing their needs.” 

Assistant Superintendent Michael Robey outlined some of the instructional and professional development strategies the District is using to address the needs of students not meeting state standards. 

He said the District will continue to expand its program of including more students in the general education classroom, that it will increase capabilities to  push interventions and services into the general education classroom, that it will use teams of instructional intervention teachers at schools where there are concentrations of students not meeting standards, that it will use Response to Intervention (RTI) to reach at -risk students in more effective ways, that it will revamp its extended-day and extended-year programs. 

On the professional development side, Mr. Robey said the District is using principal “walk-throughs” to build up principals’ knowledge of best practices in the classroom, that it is providing professional development to enhance RTI strategies, that it is focusing on lesson planning to meet instructional targets, that it is improving IEP goal writing to better assist students, and strengthening classroom instruction across the District. 

He added that each school improvement plan contains strategies to increase parent involvement. 

Most of the strategies Mr. Robey outlined are contained in the Board’s three-year goals and the District’s five-year strategic plan. He said the District’s and the individual school’s improvement plans are aligned with the Board’s goals and the District’s strategic plan. “That way you get a coordinated effort from top to bottom,” he said. 

Board president Keith Terry asked, “How do we know these programs are the most effective for these kids?” 

Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said, “When we decide what we’re going to do, we look for the research base – where is the evidence that strategy or that program or that curriculum revision is going to result in student learning.” 

Ellen Fogelberg, director of literacy, said, “I want to add that we look at the student population that the research was done on. We want to make sure that we’re not getting something that was not done on the kind of population that we’re trying to serve.” 

Dr. Murphy said, “What the literature is saying real clearly is principal leadership and instructional leadership of principals is a very important piece to academic achievement. And you have to marry that with high-quality teachers who have been trained well and whose capacity to give high-quality instruction has been built up through a combination of experience and professional development.” 

He said the principal walk-throughs, where principals visit classrooms in other schools together with curriculum specialists to observe interventional strategies and best practices is a “very powerful” way to develop the instructional leadership of principals. 

Ms. Schultz said, “The basis for all this is solid, strong, effective classroom instruction. There’s no program that’s a silver bullet that’s going to fix everything. If you don’t have that effective classroom instruction you’re not going to succeed with this population.”

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...