Administrators, teachers and staff at Oakton Elementary School presented a report on the African-Centered Curriculum (ACC) to the District 65 School Board on March 21. High percentages of third-graders in the program are “meeting standards” on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). In addition, ACC teachers recounted many intangible benefits to students in the program and their families.

The ACC program was first implemented in September 2006. The total K-5 enrollment this year is 100 students, for an average class size of 16.6 students per class.

One of the primary goals of the program is to infuse African, African American, and African Diaspora history and culture into the core curriculum. The program is designed to create higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence that support academic achievement, said Superintendent Hardy Murphy in a memo to the Board.

Jamilla Pitts, social studies facilitator for the District, said the seven principles of Nguzo Saba “guide instruction throughout the year.” The principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, purpose and faith.

In addition, the virtues of Ma’at are infused in the program: truth, justice, harmony, balance, order, reciprocity and propriety.

“One of the central tenets of the program is that children are taught to use their gifts and talents for the uplift of their family and the community,” said Ms. Pitts. “It’s not just for your individual achievement; it’s about the community as well as your own personal excellence.”

Demographics/Academic Achievement

This year the ethnic breakdown of students in the ACC program is 83% black, 14% Hispanic, 2% multi-racial, and 1% Asian. The demographics of this group of students are in some respects startling:

• 91% of the students are from low-income households;

• 9.5% are homeless;

• 20% had no pre-K experience;

• The mobility rate is 8.4%.

Ms. Pitts said 71.4% of the black third-graders in the ACC program met standards in reading on the 2010 ISATs, and 84.6% met standards in math.

Ms. Pitts presented data comparing how black third-graders in the ACC program did in relation to other black third-graders at Oakton and in the District. The metric used for making the comparison is the percent who “met standards” on the 2008, 2009 and 2010 ISATs in reading and math.

Board member Jerome Summers summarized the findings, saying, “Overall ACC students score higher in four of six categories than other black students around the District. And also in three of six categories, they scored higher than, not only black students, but the kids at Oakton in general. I think these teachers deserve a medal for what they do.”

Taking note of the high percentage of low-income and homeless students in the ACC program, Katie Bailey said the scores are “a strong validation of the work you’re doing.”

On the 2010 ISATs, students who scored higher than 14 percent of students in the state “met standards” in math; for reading the number is 26 percent. In evaluating the ACC program, the District evaluated students based solely on the percent who “met standards.” The District did not provide data that would give a more nuanced picture of achievement, such as the average ISAT scale scores of students in the ACC program; the percent scoring above the average ISAT scale score of all students in the state; or the percent scoring above the 50th percentile on the Measures of Academic Progress test, which is used in evaluating teachers.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked that such data be provided in the analysis of this and other programs in the future. Dr. Murphy said her request was “duly noted.”

Ms. Bailey asked that the District track ACC students’ performance at middle school and the high school, postulating that there may be long-term benefits.

Intangible Benefits

A number of persons pointed to intangible benefits of the ACC program.

Perry Hollins, a fourth-grade teacher, said, “We try to give [the students] a look out into the future, as well as focus on what’s happening in front of them day by day with their behavior and how it transcends to behavior in the future. One way we do that is through “Career Day.” Students get to choose a career and do research on it. …We have professionals come and talk about their chosen careers. …It’s all to inspire the children.”

He added that some of his students talk about becoming pediatricians, scientists and working in other fields. He said this puts them light-years ahead of where he was when he was at their grade level.

Students in the program are thinking long-term, about careers and going to college. Kenneth Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher in the program, said, “I have a small group of students in my class who are discussing and planning how they’re going to college together. …Many of the students feel a bond together.”

Karen Joseph, a second-grade teacher, added a different dimension. “In teaching the virtues within the program, the kids really do take onto that.” She offered examples where students look out for each other and collaborate, both in the classroom and on the playground.

She added that the sixth-graders who went through the ACC program come back to visit on a regular basis. “We see them every day. They stop by our classrooms. They want to know if they can come after school and help. We still have a very close family connection with those families as well as with the students.”

Mr. Summers said he has gone to numerous PTA meetings at schools throughout the District and has generally seen very few black parents. In contrast to that experience, he said, “When I go to an ACC event during the day time, there’s 30 black parents. You go at night, there’s 65-70 black parents at one of their events. So they do come when their children are in a program that they support. There’s an incredible amount of parent involvement.”

When asked how other schools could increase parental involvement, Judith Treadway said, “The key aspect of the ACC is the validation of the student and their culture and their history. When you validate a student and show that you care about them and you engage that student and you give them an opportunity to be recognized for success, parents come out, and that’s all we’re talking about.”

Oakton principal Churchill Daniels said the teachers are providing a role model for the students, and he thanked them for their accomplishments.

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...