On Nov. 13, the Joint District 65-202 School Board Committee considered a draft joint goal to “increase the percentage of students who possess strong literacy skills and are able to complete challenging coursework and meet college and career readiness standards.” The draft, which was characterized as a “starting point,” also contained targets and measures.

School Board members on the Committee said they wanted the goal to incorporate the idea of partnering with early childhood education providers and the community to achieve the goal. They also said they wanted the goal to adopt measures linked to college and career readiness, specifying where children should be each year, starting at pre-K (perhaps near birth) and running through twelfth grade, in order to be college and career ready when they graduate from Evanston Township High School.

Committee members view this goal as a way to address the achievement gap. The goal will also foster deeper articulation between the Districts to implement a cohesive literacy curriculum extending from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and in the process potentially raise the rigor and complexity of texts for all students.

The Committee includes the superintendents of each District, the chief administrative officer of District 65, and the presidents and one member of each School Board.

Ongoing Articulation

“We still have a bimodal distribution [an achievement gap]when it comes to reading,” said Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for District 202. “This is very important to focus on. We wanted to have a uniform focus and approach and a monitoring system in place so we could monitor progress along the way.

“If we did progress monitoring throughout, through high school,” Dr. Bavis continued, “the hope would be it would lead to better strategies and better implementation and a better focus across the spectrum.”

Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of District 202, said, “Literacy and reading instruction is a continuum” and “it has become so clear” that a joint goal to increase proficiency in literacy is a “natural fit.” Reading strategies “build upon one another,” he said. “If we build on the strategies from kindergarten through eighth grade, there’s a natural progression to how we implement additional strategies as students become more sophisticated – or maybe not sophisticated – in high school.”

He supported the idea of extending the goal beyond grades K-12 and to look all the way “from really early literacy experiences” and possibly to “post high school for young people in our community who still need literacy instruction into their early 20s.” He added, “Clearly, there’s so much we can do with the two Districts combined.”

A joint goal “continues the work that we’ve done in the last couple of years,” said Susan Schultz, assistant superintendent of District 65. “We’ve had strong articulation in areas of English and language arts across the Districts in terms of professional development and sharing. So now we put our resources together and our thinking together to really focus jointly on this goal, which I think is the next step.”

Barb Hiller, chief administrative officer of District 65, said, “I think what we’d like to see in writing is that articulation – what professional development looks like, visitation of classrooms, the sharing. I think being specific about that would be most helpful.”

Firming Up Targets, Involving the Community

Jonathan Baum, a District 202 Board member, set out several things he would like included in the joint goal. First, he said, “I think we wanted to include the early childhood piece more explicitly. We want to work with early childhood providers and early childhood advocates and include them in this process.”

Second, he suggested that the goal set targets for students at each grade level, such as third grade, fourth grade and up. He proposed the Districts set “an end goal of college and career readiness” and then set “goals along the way that get us to college and career readiness.” He suggested that SAT scores could be aligned with the college readiness benchmarks of the ACT family of tests.

Finally, Mr. Baum said, “I think it’s really important in this goal for us to say to the community that we pledge our joint efforts to achieve this goal.”

Katie Bailey, a member of the District 65 Board, said the goal should encompass a pre-K piece, should state what skills a child should have when he or she enters kindergarten, and should set goals for students at each grade level moving up to twelfth grade.

She added she was struck by a discussion at a “Learn to Work and Work to Learn” conference she attended, and the focus on college and career readiness and what that means. She suggested the Districts define that.

Gretchen Livingston, president of the District 202 Board, responded, “I don’t think we need to come up with that definition ourselves. It exists out there. … It’s a term of art that’s been defined by the testing agencies, but broadened.” She added, though, “I think it makes sense to talk about how that works for us. Because there’s definitely a perception in our community that college readiness is different than career readiness. Those are not different things any more in the same way you used to think about them. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to college, of course. But the level of preparation that’s required of those not going to college is a much higher level these days. And I think that’s something that people are trying to understand, and I think it’s important that we try to clarify that for this.”

Ms. Livingston said she echoed Mr. Baum’s and Ms. Bailey’s comments on data and measurement.

Tracy Quattrocki, District 65 Board president, said, “I agree with Jonathan. I do think in defining this joint goal we want to do something different than we’ve done in the past. Literacy has always been a goal of both Districts. One way to get at that is to be very specific grade-by-grade about where we want kids to be, starting as early as possible. So I think backmapping from the college and career readiness on the ACT is a very good place to start.

“There has to be something fresh in this approach,” Ms. Quattrocki continues. “I think we mentioned both pre-K, which is clearly something we want to focus on, but there was also a component that we wanted the community to rally around this goal. … We do need to think about how to embed these new ideas into the goal.”

District 65 Board member Candance Chow added that the goal should use a single test at each grade level to measure whether targets are met. 

Ms. Hiller said the measures may need some fluidity because after 2014, the State is changing its assessment system and will no longer be using the ISATs. 

Mr. Baum cautioned, though, that if fluidity is built into the measures, it should nonetheless be clear that the targets are to be linked to college and career readiness.

Dr. Witherspoon said the beauty of backmapping is the Districts can “determine where we want every child in Evanston to be when they walk across the stage to get that diploma and then map it back all the way – and this is where we need to rally the community – to when an infant is a day old. Map that backwards in very specific ways to measure our progress all the way from every senior in high school to almost birth.”

“I think that would be tremendous,” said Ms. Quattrocki.

She asked administrators to circulate a revised draft goal to members of the Committee before the holiday break in December. The Committee is scheduled to discuss a joint literacy goal again on Jan. 8. If it is in good shape, Ms. Quattrocki said the hope is that a proposed joint goal would be presented to the full Boards for consideration at their joint meeting on Jan. 13.