On Nov. 3, John Price, District 65 assistant superintendent for schools, and Peter Bavis, District 202 assistant superintendent, provided the District 65 and 202 School Boards with an update on plans to work toward achieving the Boards’ Joint Literacy Goal that was adopted last January.

The goal provides that Districts 65 and 202 “will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach the 12th grade.” The goal has a 12-year horizon, and contemplates that the Districts will partner with early childhood providers and other organizations to achieve the goal.

Dr. Bavis said, “This year is really about capacity building in the Districts and really developing a shared understanding around disciplinary literacy and how we’re mobilizing that together.”

Disciplinary Literacy

The Boards decided when they adopted the joint literacy goal that they would accomplish it by implementing “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 will be expected to teach students how to read, write, question and think like a mathematician. A history teacher will be expected to teach students how to read, write, question and think like an historian. And the same applies when they are teaching a science, a literature or another course.

Scott Bramley, District 202 associate principal for instruction and literacy,  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 Districts have formed a Joint Disciplinary Literacy Committee, composed of Mr. Price and Dr. Bavis and curriculum leaders and department heads from each District, which will meet several times and develop shared language and a shared implementation plan by the spring of 2015.

During this school year, the committee will observe classroom instruction at ETHS and one District 65 middle school and will also examine exemplars of student work across disciplines at the eighth- and ninth-grade levels as a way to develop a shared understanding of disciplinary literacy and to create shared definitions in each discipline of high-quality student work.

Mr. Price said that the committee would also determine the Districts’ current performance, and identify the gaps in the Districts’ delivered and received curriculum, and determine where students need the most support.

He said by the spring, the committee “will have a more fleshed out plan of how we work together, and what do we believe high-quality disciplinary work looks like in at least two areas, social studies and science.”

District 65 Board member Richard Rykhus asked if the report next spring could identify some of the gaps and make some initial recommendations on how to close them.

Dr. Bavis said, “I think it’s important not only to identify the gaps, but that we actively start thinking about how we vigorously address those gaps and plan around them.”

Focusing on Both Early and Later Years

A memo prepared by Mr. Price and Dr. Bavis says, “Both Districts are committed to realizing this goal [the Joint Literacy Goal] by starting in pre-kindergarten and building proficiency over time,” and “District 65 will begin an intensive focus on PreK-2 literacy instruction with the goal of increasing the percentage of children reading on grade level by the time they reach 3rd grade.”

District 65’s last five-year strategic plan contained a goal that all third-graders who were in the District for four continuous years would be reading at grade level, defined in the metrics as reading at or above the 50th percentile. On the 2013 ISATs, only 36% of black students, 38% of Hispanic students, and 33% of low-income students were reading at grade level, using performance at or above the 50th percentile as the metric.

One concrete example of the collaboration between Districts 65 and 202 at the early years is a program being established at Oakton Elementary School.

Mr. Bramley said ETHS is working with Churchill Daniels, the principal at Oakton School, to establish a pilot program there. Beginning next semester, Evanston Township High School students will provide tutoring and mentoring to kindergarten students selected by Mr. Daniels and Oakton staff.

Dr. Bavis said the joint literacy goal is “not just about collaboration on 7th, 8th and 9th grades, those transition years, but what do you do to break out and go beyond that. That’s our direct link with Cradle to Career.”

Mr. Price said, “We want to start at pre-school. I think the Joint Literacy Goal starts at pre-school and that’s where I think we need to provide some additional time, effort and focus. I think District 65 is really taking a look at our very youngest students. I think kindergarten is too late. We really want to be looking at how we are serving our three-year olds, our four-year olds as they move into kindergarten, setting some goals around kindergarten readiness for our students.

“We don’t just want to be about 7th, 8th and 9th grades, but try to push from the bottom our youngest students, our three-year olds, our four-year olds, our five-year olds, which is going to be an increasing focus for some members of our curriculum instruction team,” said Mr. Price.

Mr. Price added that District 65 will also be focusing on middle-school students.

“From District 65’s perspective, we also want to pull from the top – 7th and 8th graders – which will be the focus for other members of our team,” he said.

Mr. Price will work with Dr. Bavis to determine what the expectations are at 9th, 10th and 11th grades at Evanston Township High School, and ascertain what can be done “for 13-and 14-year-olds to make sure those expectations are aligned.”

Community Partnerships

District 65 Board member Candance Chow said when the Joint Literacy Goal was adopted, “We envisioned it as us [Districts 65 and 202] working together and then extending our work to our partners in the community.” She said, “I would like to see a plan at the end of the year that’s going to blossom outward with Evanston Public Library, with all of our partners who have a thirst to getting engaged in this.”

District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki said, “I do think when we launched the goal it was both about alignment but bringing the community in to help us, recognizing we can’t do it alone as a school district. So that to me would be an important part of the spring’s message: What are we going to do to bring people in to help us on this mission?”

Claudia Garrison added, “And how can we spread this support – both ways?”

Ms. Quattrocki added that the Joint Literacy Goal goes hand in hand with the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative, and that representatives of Districts 65 and 202 will be members of the design team working on literacy.

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...