At a joint meeting on Jan. 13, the District 65 and District 202 School Boards approved a joint literacy goal to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”

Significantly, the Districts recognize they cannot accomplish this goal alone. They commit to partnering not only with each other, but also “with community organizations, especially those involved in the essential work of early childhood education, to capitalize on every opportunity to meet this goal.”

This is the first academic goal adopted jointly by both School Districts. It is also perhaps the boldest commitment made to address the achievement gaps in Evanston.

“In one sense our joint goal is about closing the achievement gap, because it recognizes the need for every student to acquire the literacy skills necessary to graduate from ETHS college and career ready,” said Tracy Quattrocki, president of the District 65 School Board. “But in another sense it is also an acknowledgement that this work must begin early and cannot fall exclusively to either District – it is a joint effort, and one which demands the cooperation of both Boards and the help of the entire Evanston community.”

Gretchen Livingston, president of the District 202 Board, said, “Both Districts acknowledge that our students have not all achieved the same level of success in school, despite best intentions and efforts, and even some success. The new joint goal will bring new focus and energy to our efforts, involve the community, and include a critical backmapping and data component so that we can gauge progress along the way as our Districts take on the shared responsibility for the success of our students.”

“We know that the academic achievement gap begins at an early age with the reading gap,” said Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of District 202. “Our challenge is to erase the reading gap. By coming together as two school districts and energizing the support of the entire community, we can significantly narrow and even eliminate the academic achievement gap by ensuring that all the youth in our community are proficient readers who will be college and career ready when they graduate from high school.”

“The approval of this plan is significant in that we are committing to working together to ensure that all of our students are proficient readers and are college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade,” said Barbara Hiller, chief administrative officer for District 65. “It’s vital that we work collaboratively with District 202, as well as with our community, in monitoring our students’ progress as they advance through grade levels and to provide the support necessary for our students in meeting these literacy goals,” she added. 

The joint goal goes hand in hand with the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative (ECCI) unveiled last month. ECCI was formally presented to the Boards at their joint meeting.

The Joint Literacy Goal

Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at ETHS, said a committee composed of District 65 and 202 administrators began a year ago by analyzing the achievement gap, looking at parent engagement, creating markers for student success as they progressed from kindergarten through high school and considering other issues.

“Where we landed ultimately was on literacy and the importance of literacy,” Dr. Bavis said. “I like to call literacy a civil right. You need to be literate in the world to be a productive citizen.”

A Joint D65/202 Committee composed of administrators and two Board members from each District discussed the literacy goal at several meetings before it was presented to the full boards.

 “And what we have now is a commitment, an ambitious commitment, to ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready when they reach twelfth grade,” Dr. Bavis said.

The joint literacy goal has a long-term, 12-year horizon. The goal statement acknowledges that “in order to have 100% of 12th graders be both college and career ready and proficient readers will take time.” The goal says, though, “We are committed to realizing this goal by starting in pre-kindergarten and building proficiency over time. We are committed to attaining this goal in one K-12 cycle.”

When students enter kindergarten, they will be expected to be at or above the 50th percentile on the fall ISEL composite score. Third- through eleventh-graders will be expected to meet a standardized benchmark for college and career readiness in reading, for example, at or above the 60th percentile in reading on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test which is given to third- through eighth-graders and at or above ACT’s college readiness benchmarks on the PLAN or ACT tests given, respectively, to tenth- and eleventh-graders.  

The goal also sets targets for increasing writing skills and for increasing proficiency levels for reading and writing in the content areas, such as social studies and science. In addition, all students will be expected to meet or exceed their expected individual growth targets each year.

A Target of 100 Percent

Katie Bailey, District 65 Board, raised an issue that the goal provides “100 percent” of the students will be proficient readers and college and career ready by 12th grade. While raising the issue, she said, “I believe that every child can learn and that every child can be college and career ready.”

Ms. Bailey added she would like measures of success set for the first three years that would reflect incremental progress toward meeting the 12-year goal.

Mark Metz, District 202 Board, said, “I think we can keep 100 percent as an aspirational goal. But I also think it is important that we have targeted growth patterns within that.”

Grethchen Livingston (District 202 Board President), Candance Chow (District 65 Board) and Richard Rykhus (District 65 Board) all spoke in favor of keeping the long-term goal at 100 percent.

Mr. Ryhkus said, “I think it changes our mindset. We’re doing our best to make sure each child succeeds.”

Some Instructional Changes

To achieve this goal, the Districts are backmapping the curriculum to ensure that students are taught the foundational skills in earlier grades that are necessary to succeed in later grades. They are also implementing what is called “disciplinary literacy.”

Ellen Fogelberg, assistant superintendent at District 65, said disciplinary literacy is “a departure from the work we’ve done in the  past.” She explained that teachers previously taught students general strategies on how to read any kind of informational text. In disciplinary literacy, a math teacher would be expected to teach students how mathematicians read and understand math. She said a mathematician does not just use general strategies, but uses specific strategies, which are different than an historian would use.

Scott Bramle, department chair for English and Reading at ETHS, explained, “Teachers are not just dispensing content and they’re not just dispensing skills relative to their content area, but they’re teaching critical thinking skills in relation to their world – how a mathematician, or an historian, or an engineer would engage in discourse in the greater world.

Disciplinary literacy is generally used in middle schools and high schools and is in line with current research, said Mr. Bramle. Administrators are expected to present a more detailed presentation of instructional changes to achieve the joint goal at the joint Board meeting in June.

Partnering with the Community

The goal statement recognizes, “Much of what children learn about reading and writing happens outside of school; therefore, we cannot accomplish this goal in isolation.” The Districts commit to partnering with community organizations especially early childhood providers to meet the goal.

The Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative (ECCI) provides the vehicle to partner with the community. (See article on page 23.) Dr. Witherspoon said through ECCI the School Districts could partner with 30 or more organizations in Evanston to achieve their reading goal. As examples, he said they could work with early childhood providers, or with McGaw Y in its summer program, or Y.O.U. in its after-school program.

“Our hope and goal is that working collectively we can achieve things for the youth of our community and that the youth of our community can achieve things for themselves above and beyond anything we’ve been able to do so far,” Dr. Witherspoon added.

Andrea Densham, executive director of Childcare Network of Evanston, said CNE is committed to ECCI. She added, “I want to thank both Boards for working so hard on your common literacy goals. It is our hope and goal in the early childhood space to come up with similar goals and objectives so we go from pre-natal through kindergarten. I think that is quite an ambitious and ground-breaking initiative.”

The Vote

The Board approved the joint goal by a voice vote.

Ms. Quattrocki summed up that at the joint School Board meeting in June, administrators will be asked to present proposed measures of success for the first three years, that they will explain in more detail new instructional strategies to achieve the goal and to offer possible ways to create more time for teachers during the school day to implement some of the new strategies.

The goal will be implemented starting with the 2014-15 school year.

The data for third, fifth and eighth graders was obtained from District 65’s 2012 Accountability Report. The data for eleventh graders was obtained from the interactive report card on the website of the Illinois State Board of Education.

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...