At the June 4 School Board meeting, District 65 administrators presented additional data on the African Centered Curriculum (ACC) program that is housed at Oakton School. The program, implemented in the 2006-07 school year, was designed to provide culturally sensitive instruction to develop a deeper understanding of the African and African American cultures. It is open to students across the District.

When administrators presented the base data on the ACC program in April, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said they were “dismayed” when they looked at the test scores. “There’s absolutely something we’ve got to check out about the program, the demographic of the kids, what’s happening in that program instructionally,” he said.

Achievement Data

The supplemental data shows that a relatively high percentage of third-graders in the program scored at or above the 50th percentile on the 2011 Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), but low percentages of fourth- and fifth-graders scored above that benchmark on that test. The accompanying table gives a breakdown of the data.

The 50th percentile is often used as an indicator of performing at grade level. The Illinois State Board of Education recently said in a filing with the U.S. Department of Education that it planned to raise the standard to “meet standards” on the ISATs to the 50th percentile.

Demographics of the ACC Program

Administrators also presented demographic data to give context to the achievement data. The demographic data shows that a high percentage of students in the ACC program are from low-income households, ranging from a high of 94% at third grade to a low of 89% at fifth grade. In the third- through fifth-grade levels, there were a total of five homeless students.

There is also a relatively high transiency rate. In the spring of 2011 (when the 2011 ISATs were given), 75% of the third-graders were in the ACC program since kindergarten; 56% of the fourth-graders were in the program since kindergarten and 13% since first grade; and 42% of the fifth-graders were in the program since first grade and 16% since second grade. (Fifth-graders were in first grade when the program started).

The ACC program, however, has relatively low class sizes. In the spring of 2011, the average class size of the third- through fifth-grade classes was 16 students. For the 2011-12 school year, the class sizes ranged from a low of nine students to a high of 19. The low class sizes enable teachers to provide more attention to individual students. Low class sizes may also be indicator of the level of interest in the program.

So far, only eight students have enrolled in the kindergarten class for the 2012-13 school year, said Lora Taira, chief information officer of the District. Ms. Taira added, though, that students traditionally enroll late in the kindergarten class.

At the June 4 Board meeting, Dr. Murphy initially said that everyone needed to step back and evaluate “where we are going from here.”  After Churchill Daniels, principal of Oakton School, advocated to continue the program, Dr. Murphy did an about-face and said the administration would support it as well.

Comments on the ACC Program 

After administrators presented the data on the ACC program, Mr. Daniels stepped up to the lectern and said, “We need to unpack this data. … We need to put a comprehensive action plan together.” He asked that he and the ACC teachers be given an opportunity to present the action plan to the Board at a later date.

Dr. Murphy said, “We really need to take a look and see whether or not the program is meeting the expectations that we had set out for it. All of us, as a group, have got to step back and ask the question, what we expected of the program and has student achievement actually happened.

 “We have a concentration of students with at-risk factors. How are we going to pull something together to accelerate their achievement profile. The dream and the goal of all of this was to have a program that we were going to learn from and that would accelerate student achievement in such a way that hadn’t been accelerated before. As a matter of fact, it hasn’t happened.”

Board president Katie Bailey said there were a number of demographic factors that had to be taken into account including the high percentage of students from low-income households, the number of students from homeless families, and the mobility rate. 

Dr. Murphy said, “The dream was that we were building an engine, an instructional program that would be able to overcome a lot of at-risk kinds of experiences.

“We’re not putting the blame anywhere. Maybe what we need to do is step back and evaluate whether we’ve done that and whether or not that can be done. That really is an important conversation for us to have. Can we build an engine using culturally responsive and culturally appropriate instructional activities that would overcome at-risk factors that include free and reduced-fee lunch students, and high transiency.

“As a staff we need to step back and look at what we’re doing and ask can this happen.”

Dr. Murphy raised two other issues. First, looking at the class sizes and demographic data, he said, “We have to look at the program and how attractive it is to parents across the District because it looks like the demographic profile is getting rather predictable about who is showing up in the program.”

Second, he raised a question about the low class sizes in the context of the District’s budget and the “tough economic times.”

“When I was looking at the ACC program, and a classroom that has 9 students in it,” said Dr. Murphy, “and I’m dealing with Mr. Hunter [principal of Lincolnwood School] and whether he can have an extra teacher because he has a classroom with 27 students in it, it’s pretty tough for me sitting here as a superintendent and say we’re going to have a classroom with 9 students in it and turn parents in Lincolnwood down when they’ve got 27 students.

“We’ve had some conversations about whether we should have a class or whether we should integrate the students into other classrooms and have after-school activities that integrate them into ACC activities.”

Mr. Daniels said, “Before we were even able to attack the academics we had to build relationships not only with the kids but also with the parents. We had to build their self-esteem up to the point where they felt in their hearts that they can compete with any student in our District. That took a process.

“Now that we have that platform for kids to see they can compete with other students, they have the ability to show their performance at third-, fourth- and fifth-grades. They are definitely capable.

“I’m not going to give up on the ACC program,” Mr. Daniels continued. “But I’m urging you to stay the course. We can’t simply just say we’re going to give up and we’re going to throw this program out of the way. We made an investment to the parents and to the kids and that’s the ones it will hurt if we have to revamp this program.”

Dr. Murphy said, “I think that’s a challenge there. Churchhill [Daniels], if you and your teachers are putting that on the table, we have to accept that challenge and see if working together, we can in fact make the program become what we felt it would become.

“Just as they’re going to take this as their personal challenge, we’re going to have to take it as ours,” said Dr. Murphy.

The Board has scheduled a subsequent meeting to discuss Mr. Daniels’ action plan for the ACC program.

The District also analyzed how third- through fifth-graders in the ACC program did in comparison to third- through fifth-graders who were not in the ACC program, but who were from low-income households at Oakton. The data show that the latter group of students did slightly better on the 2011 ISATs. This table shows the percentage of students in each group who scored at or above the 50th percentile in reading and math on the 2011 ISATs.

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...