The District 65 and 202 School Boards discussed college and career readiness and the new Common Core State Standards at a joint meeting on Jan. 10. Illinois, together with 42 other states, adopted the Common Core Standards last year as a vehicle to move more students toward college and career readiness.

“College and career readiness refers to the essential knowledge and skills high school graduates should have at the end of their K-12 education,” said a memo prepared by Susan Schultz, assistant superintendent of District 65, and Diep Nguyen, assistant superintendent of District 202. “In addition to competencies in English and mathematics, all students must possess the knowledge, habits and skills that come from a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum. Students will also need to learn critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.”

Dr. Nguyen and Ms. Schultz outlined the ways Districts 65 and 202 planned to collaborate to move forward in implementing the new standards and preparing students for college and careers. School Board members said the collaborative efforts outlined at the meeting represented a major step forward.

College and Career Readiness

There is a growing recognition that in today’s world a high school diploma is not enough. Some post-secondary education either in college or in a job training program is necessary to earn a decent living.

“In today’s workforce, jobs require more education than ever before.” Dr. Nguyen told members of the School Boards. “Whether graduates are going to college or work, they need the same skills.”

Dr. Nguyen said research conducted by the American Diploma Project and ACT found that the knowledge and skills that high school graduates will need to be successful in college are the same as those they will need to be successful in a job that pays enough to support a family well above the poverty level, provides benefits, and that provides for advancement.

While recognizing that not all students will go to college, District 65
Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “A student may elect not to go to college …but the issue for me is that all students have the capability of taking that option.”

Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards contain the states new learning standards for English-language arts and mathematics for kindergarten through twelfth grades. The standards were prepared by a consortium of 48 states and territories and will contain 85 percent of the learning standards for each state that adopts the standards.

“These new standards are fewer, clearer and higher than the previous standards, which were adopted in 1997, and will better prepare Illinois students for success in college and careers,” said State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch, Ed.D., when the Illinois State Board of Education adopted the standards

In preparing these standards – which lay out year-by-year what children should learn in math and English-language arts – 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 standards for kindergarten through the twelfth grades.

Ms. Schultz said the standards are anchored in college and career readiness; they are focused, coherent, clear and rigorous; they are internationally benchmarked; and they are evidence- and research-based.

Ms. Schultz said there were no surprises in the English-language arts standards. At twelfth grade, students will be expected to be able to comprehend and evaluate complex texts across a range of disciplines, construct effective arguments and convey intricate and multifaceted information; to have a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter; to be able to adapt their communication in relation to audience, task, purpose and discipline; to be engaged and open-minded – but discerning – readers and listeners; and to possess other skills.

Ms. Schultz said that under the English-language arts standards, literacy will also be taught while teaching other subjects, such as history. “Literacy is embedded in history, social studies, science and technical subjects,” she said. “So learning the content of social sciences and math is also about learning to read, write and talk about the content. …There is now a shared responsibility for literacy.”

Under the new math standards, Ms. Shultz said students will be expected to be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, to reason abstractly and quantitatively, to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, to apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life and the workplace, and to possess other skills.

Alluding to a potential issue with the math standards she added, “At K-8 the focus is on numbers and operations, at 6-8 the focus is on algebra readiness, and there’s significantly less emphasis on algebra, statistics and probability in the early years.”

Susanne Farrand, Math/Differentiated Education Coordinator at District 65 said “The main shift that’s happening in these [math] core standards, as I see it, is there’s more of an emphasis on numbers and operations in the early grades and less emphasis on algebra so I think it will be more difficult to have students ready for algebra following these standards.”

Dr. Murphy said the issue arises out of the core standard’s “explicit representation of what is expected in mathematics.” He added, “I expect if you asked people who developed this they would say ‘No, we didn’t mean we were excluding algebraic thinking in the early grades. We just wanted to be sure these basic operations were taken care of.’”

Keith Terry, Board president of District 65, asked how the changed focus would impact science instruction. Dr. Nguyen responded, “What it [the core standards] will entice us to do is to approach the teaching of science in a different way than we have in the past. In the past, perhaps we wanted students to master the content of biology, physical science, etc. Now the emphasis probably will be on how to ask scientific questions, how to think like a scientist, how to conduct scientific experiments, how to reason scientifically, how to look for evidence.

“Those are the skills that are common for college readiness and career readiness,” she continued. “It’s not just science, but a lot of content, where we begin to shift the emphasis on content coverage to critical thinking and problem solving skills for our students.”

“What’s implicit in the discussion about these common standards is that there’s going to be increased rigor from the kindergarten on up, which means that the tasks we ask of children are going to be more complex and the difficulty index is going to be increased,” said Dr. Murphy.

 The rigor will also be carried over to career and technical education courses. When asked if the vocational tract would be dismantled at ETHS, Eric Witherspoon, ETHS Superintendent, said, “No. What we’ll need to do – in the courses that we think of as career and technical education courses – is to make sure those courses are also meeting those very high standards.”

Common Assessments
     Are in the Works

Illinois is one of 26 states that have joined a Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) which was formed to develop a K-12 assessment system aligned to the common core standards in English-language arts and mathematics. Ms. Schultz said the new assessments will be ready by the 2014-15 school year. “They will be much different from the assessments we have now,” she said.

Ms. Schultz said some of the key features of the PARCC proposal are that the assessments will be common across all the participating states; the assessments for grades 3-8 will measure whether students are on track to achieve college and career readiness in high school; and the assessments will be given throughout the school year as well as at the end of the school year.

She added that the assessments will be computer-based and will include some performance tasks and computer-enhanced items that will elicit complex demonstrations of knowledge.

The new assessments, as proposed, will likely address concerns that many states have adopted low benchmarks to measure “proficiency” for students. Recent studies have concluded that Illinois’ benchmarks to measure “meet standards” on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test given at third through eighth grades are among the lowest in the nation and that they are grossly misaligned with the skills and knowledge students need to be on track to college and career readiness.

Collaboration Between the Districts,
     A Joint Committee

Ms. Shultz and Dr. Nguyen said administrators in the two School Districts have been actively collaborating on many issues, and they outlined ways in which the Districts would increase their collaboration going forward.

Dr. Nguyen said the assistant superintendents, curriculum leaders and building leaders from both Districts have committed to meet at least once a month to discuss curricular issues.

The administrators have conducted walk-throughs of classrooms in each District to observe differentiated instruction in the classrooms and discussed their observations. “These are the beginnings of conversations so we can really articulate vertically what is it that we see in our teachers’ classrooms and how we can support each other in supporting the teachers to differentiate instruction for kids,” said Dr. Nguyen.

The Districts have also begun to share more data “so we can figure out the facts and the patterns of achievement of our students that will help us problem-solve together,” said Dr. Nguyen.

She said the Districts are also planning to establish a joint committee for K-12 articulation for literacy and math. “The goal that we have is that we would come up with a document that will articulate the core and the most powerful standards that both Districts can agree on – that we will use to measure our curriculum for our students here in Evanston.”

District 65 Board member Tracy Quattrocki noted there was a misalignment between the state’s tests for elementary students and high school students. She asked if the School Districts could coordinate their testing efforts.

Dr. Nguyen said, “I hope we [the joint committee] can also agree on common assessments or at least common ways of assessing or monitoring students that we can develop together.”

Ms. Schultz said a meeting was scheduled between administrators to discuss the EXPLORE test given by ETHS to District 65 eighth-graders. Dr. Murphy said both Districts use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, implying that it may be a vehicle to track students across grade levels on a continuous basis.

School Board members applauded the plan for heightened collaboration between the School Districts. Mark Metz, a member of the District 202 Board, said, “I have been talking to a lot of people in the community … And there’s a consistent message about the collaboration and previously the lack thereof between the two Districts. It’s consistent. It’s reached a large proportion. I think the work you’re doing is overdue and greatly appreciated and will yield great results.

“Give the community what they’re really looking for – better coordination between our two School Districts, making sure the experience that our kids have between kindergarten right on through high school is one seamless experience and not divided artificially after the eighth grade. This kind of work you’ve outlined tonight is a huge step in the right direction.”

Katie Bailey, a member of the District 65 School Board, said she agreed that the School Board members consistently hear about the need for collaboration. She said that a lot of collaboration has been taking place between the Districts, but that the collaboration proposed at the meeting was even more. She said, “I think the joint committee is going to be a great step.”

Creating a Culture
     Of College Readiness

School Board members raised some additional issues they felt bear on preparing students for college and career readiness. Ms. Bailey raised the question about addressing social and emotional issues. She suggested District 65 “start to have kids at an early age think about the opportunities they have for college and career readiness.”

Dr. Murphy said some schools were starting to talk to students in the earliest years about college “as a vision for the future.” He added, “This whole concept of college and career readiness can define the way we relate to students and our expectations about them in a very powerful way.”

Mary Wilkerson, a District 202 Board member, said students should be exposed to various careers at a very early age so they could see career opportunities and then see what they need to do to get there.

Deborah Graham, a District 202 Board member, referred to an article circulated by Gretchen Livingston, also on the District 202 Board, which emphasized the importance of work habits and diligence to college readiness, and also alluded to team work, adaptability and flexibility. She said some of these traits were covered in District 202’s goal relating to student well-being, but asked administrators to consider how these traits could be instilled in students.

Ms. Livingston said community members “are going to have a shift in thinking about how they understand the notion of student proficiency. … There’s going to be a ramping up in the standards.” She asked administrators to consider how this would be communicated to the community. 

Ms. Graham referred to benchmarks for college readiness on the EXPLORE and ACT tests and said, “I think if we’re serious about this, we need to have data that show how many students are meeting [the benchmarks], and what the demographics are of those students.”

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...