On May 22, the Joint District 65-202 Board Committee heard a report on the steps taken so far to implement the Joint Literacy Goal adopted by the District 65 and 202 School Boards on Jan. 13. The Committee also discussed what steps the District 65 and 202 School Boards might take to share data and provide a framework for measuring progress toward meeting the goal. The Boards are scheduled to meet on June 23, which will be their second joint meeting this year.

The Joint Literacy Goal provides: “District 65 and District 202 will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade. To attain this goal we are adopting and implementing a model of disciplinary literacy.”

In addition, in the goal statement, both Districts “commit to partnering with each other and with community organizations, especially those involved in the essential work of early childhood education” to achieve the goal. The Joint Literacy Goal has a long-term, 12-year horizon.

Disciplinary Literacy

“We’ve been working very collaboratively with District 65 on how to operationalize the goal,” said Scott Bramley, department chair for English and reading at Evanston Township High School (ETHS). He said they have been considering, “What systems and structures do we need to put in place at the high school and then the middle school and then in the elementary programs to make sure that we are starting to redesign and to really reenergize instructional practices and actually see how we can change the trajectory of students in the K-12 cycle?”

Mr. Bramley said District 65 and ETHS are preparing to implement “disciplinary literacy.”

Previously, teachers taught their students to use the same general strategies to read a text, whether it was a novel, a history book, or a math textbook.  In disciplinary literacy, a math teacher would be expected to teach students how mathematicians read and understand math. A mathematician does not just use general strategies, but uses specific strategies, which are different from those a historian would use.

In essence, when students are taking a math course, they are expected to get inside the head of a mathematician and read, write, question and think like a mathematician. When they take a history course, they are expected to get inside the head of a historian, and read, write, question and think like a historian. And the same applies when they are taking a science, a literature or another course. 

Mr. Bramley 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.

“The type of reading, of writing, the approach to texts, the speaking and listening … is different in the science course than the English language arts course,” said Mr. Bramley. “The way that we approach the questions that we ask, the type of questions, the writing that’s accomplished through the discipline, those things are different for each discipline.”

Mr. Bramley said ETHS is working with instructional coaches and attempting to build the capacity of teachers to instruct their classes using disciplinary literacy. A number of teachers at ETHS are trying out strategies to teach students how to read and write as a mathematician, or as an historian, and are crafting lesson plans they can share with other teachers in their departments.

He said Districts 65 and 202 were each preparing draft “position statements” on disciplinary literacy and were scheduled to meet “to create a joint position statement in line with our commitment to partnering together to achieve the joint literacy goal.

“The purpose is to define what disciplinary literacy is, what it’s not, and how, as an instructional framework, it fits into the larger shifts called for in the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards,” Mr. Bramley told the RoundTable. “We want a clear vision to be published for consistency of the message and a focus for the work ahead.”

He added, “For ETHS, the position statement also articulates the connection of disciplinary literacy as one of the ways we are addressing Board Goals … and the joint literacy goal, which all call for the academic success of all students.” 

Measuring Progress Toward Meeting the Joint Literacy Goal

District 202 President Gretchen Livingston said, “This is all great.” But she said the School Boards needed to agree on the metrics to use to measure progress toward meeting the Joint Literacy Goal. She said the Boards need “to come to agreement on a framework” and she wanted “to home in on that.”

Mr. Bramley said ETHS planned to use the “STAR Reading Assessment,” a computer adaptive test, to measure progress toward achieving reading proficiency. “Every student will be baseline tested and mid-year tested and post tested,” he said. “We will also be able to do progress monitoring for any course throughout the year because the test only takes 20 minutes, at most.”

“District 202 will be able to measure growth of students from 9th grade to 12th grade, he said. “As we continue to partner with District 65 … potentially we can track before that.”

Mr. Bramley added that the “other measure” is the benchmark for college and career readiness being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The PARCC assessments are scheduled to be given to students beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Mr. Bramley said Districts 65 and 202 can track students’ progress toward college and career readiness using PARCC.

Paul Goren, superintendent of District 65, said he had a briefing the previous day with Demetra Disotuar, curriculum coordinator of literacy at the District, and discussed the “big picture.” He said, “Let’s start backwards from our high school grads and what do we want for all kids who live in Evanston and Skokie and go to our schools. What does it really mean at pre-k, what does it mean to transition to fourth grade and going into middle school? What does it mean in that key transition to freshman year at the high school? When our kids hop into high school are they ready to roll?”

The manner in which the Districts operationalize the Joint Literacy Goal “is really, really key,” Dr. Goren said. “On measurement, you’re spot on that PARCC is going to push us. The common core is going to push us to do all this work. Disciplinary literacy makes sense. Even at third grade, even at first grade it makes sense. “

He added, “STAR goes all the way back to pre-K. We want to see how strong an assessment it is back then.” He said if it was not a strong test at that level, the District could use other tests.

Other Considerations

Tracy Quattrocki, president of the District 65 Board, said two other things were discussed in adopting the Joint Literacy Goal. First, she said, “We did mention that we wanted to articulate not only the instructional shift, but that we were looking backward as far as we could go so there was an early childhood piece and there was engagement with the community” to achieve the goal.

The Evanston Cradle to Career initiative may embody a partnership with the early childhood community, she said, “But we should articulate it from this side as well – what we’re doing differently about our approach to achieve this goal.”

Second, Ms. Quattrocki said, the Districts keep adding onto teachers’ workloads, and there was a suggestion made at the joint Board meeting in January that when something was added to the teachers’ plates, something should be taken off. “What are we taking off?” she asked.

Data Sharing and a Joint Agreement

While sharing data between the Districts has evolved as a separate topic, it goes hand-in-hand with monitoring progress toward achieving the Joint Literacy Goal. Sharing data is necessary to measure and track student progress from pre-K through senior year at ETHS.

The Committee reached consensus that they would propose that the School Boards enter into an umbrella data-sharing agreement at the joint Board meeting in June. Conceptually, the umbrella agreement will provide that a committee be established to determine specific research projects that the Districts will undertake. For each research project the committee will set forth in a memorandum: 1) the data to be shared; 2) the purpose of sharing the data; 3) the contact persons; and 4) the duration of the project. The committee will also be charged with ensuring privacy.

Dr. Goren emphasized, “We have to be disciplined” in selecting research projects and in providing clear specifications for each research project.

District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum suggested that the Boards agree as part of this process to prepare a “joint assessment report” for students in District 65 and 202 on an annual basis. Among other things, this could track progress toward meeting the Joint Literacy Goal. There was consensus at the committee level that this be done beginning in the fall of 2015.

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...