In late summer, Oakton parents received a letter regarding Oakton’s performance on the ISATs. There is no use in mincing words: Oakton did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two consecutive years, based on the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. We are fully aware of the District’s obligation to inform families of this fact and to offer students the option to attend another District 65 school that has met these standards, and we believe that as many as 30 or 40 families opted out of Oakton for the 2011-12 school-year.

We speculate that, because the District’s letter offered no interpretation of these results, many families had a fear of sending their children to a “failing” school and felt their children would receive a better education at a school without this reputation. We hope that, should such a letter be necessary in the future, the School District will consider including other particulars when informing parents of their option to leave Oakton School. Such a letter can avoid spreading fear and misperception if it can tell the whole story of the school.

Between us we have five children who have or will have walked the halls of our beloved neighborhood school. We are well acquainted with Oakton School and can personally address the matter of its educational quality, and we challenge families in our attendance area to look more closely at what that score represents in deciding whether to send their children to Oakton.

Families should know that even though Oakton did not make AYP, its test scores have been on an upward trend for the past three years. They should also know that the curriculum is identical in all District 65 schools, and that Oakton is a wonderful place, with dedicated teachers and caring professionals who will deliver instruction on par with teachers in any of our District’s schools. Oakton has an amazing, involved parent community. Most importantly, Oakton is a perfectly safe and sound choice for grammar-school education.

Test scores are one way to evaluate the quality of a school, certainly a place to start for many parents who have never been inside their neighborhood school. Sixty-five percent of Oakton students are considered “economically disadvantaged,” meaning that they qualify for the free/reduced lunch program. This is at least 10 percentage points higher than any other school in the District, but, as with other schools, this population is the group with the lowest percentage of students making AYP.

Families may not know that their children will fare no better or no worse because of the school they attend. Students’ potential scores are statistically affected much more by factors that have nothing to do with choice of schools. The 2010 Illinois State School Report Card shows that students classified as economically disadvantaged at Dewey School did not perform as well on the ISATs as students grouped in this same category at Oakton School.

Knowing this, we chose to opt into Oakton again. We reject the notion that our children must be insulated from poverty or people who do not look like them in order to have a good educational experience. We reject the notion that school is just a place for our children.

Oakton is a community center for the entire family. Assemblies, dances, concerts, PTA-sponsored lectures, a yearly fun fair, book sales and celebrations of all kinds bring families into the school at all hours. Our children have learned how to share their spare mittens with friends who have none; have learned to see families in all kinds of configurations and not assume any common thread but love; have identified friends by shades of skin color described in such beautiful terms that they bring tears to your eyes; have described the glories of friends’ houses from mansions to studio apartments with equal fervor; have come to see the world as ever-surprising, ever-interesting, ever-ready-to-be discovered.

That is our idea of a quality education. When our children grow up, their ability to parse a sentence will have served to get them through a standardized test, but their ability to roll with the punches in a world of people who may be different from them will make them truly citizens of the world. That is what will make us proud to have been Oakton parents.

In 2014, the Illinois State Board of Education will require 100 percent of all students in schools to make “adequate yearly progress.” By this measure, not a single school in District 65 will succeed. Parents will then be forced to use measures beyond the tests to determine a good fit for their family. We implore Oakton-area families to give thoughtful consideration to all the lessons our children learn in school beyond what is tested on the ISATs. 

Please talk to other families about their experiences at Oakton School; visit the school; meet the teachers and our great principal; see our edible garden and beautiful school grounds; attend one of our all-school events. Don’t make this decision in haste, and be mindful of the long-term ramifications for our South Evanston community.