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Jesch Reyes, STEM Director for District 65, gave a high-level overview and update of the work in progress to improve mathematics instruction at District 65 this year. The vision is to provide all students with the skills and understandings articulated by the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards and to “foster in our students inquiry-based approaches to learning and problem-solving in both school and in everyday life,” said Mr. Reyes.
The District’s 2014 Achievement Report reflects that 80% of white students met college readiness benchmarks on the 2014 Illinois Standard Achievement Test; the percentages for black and Hispanic students, though, were respectively 24% and 39%. During the last four years the percentage of students meeting expected gains on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test declined and the percentage of students in the bottom national quartile increased.
Throughout his presentation, Mr. Reyes came back to equity. “One of the major things that we have to think about is providing a high quality math program for all students and that’s really centered in equity. We have to think of that as our main agenda,” he said.
A High-Level Overview
The District has added two math specialists, one for the K-5 grade levels and the other for the 6-8 grade levels. They will support the transition to the Common Core State Standards and work with stakeholders to define instructional expectations and provide guidance on the curriculum, instruction, interventions, professional development and provide other supports.
Adding these positions is what makes “the remainder of the updates possible,” said Mr. Reyes.
He highlighted four main iniatives that are in the works.
First, “One major piece is development of a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) that will support all groups of learners in the work that we’re doing in mathematics,” said Mr. Reyes. “It’s not just thinking about general education, it’s not just thinking about students who are struggling, it’s not just thinking about students who are accelerating, but rather it’s thinking about the full spectrum of all students and how are we supporting all students to be successful in the work they’re doing in the schools.”
It includes thinking about, “How do we support our struggling learners so all students are having access to high quality mathematics and are moving forward in their learning,” he added.
MTSS is the “umbrella concept” that will provide a structure that allows educators to offer varied levels of supports that different students might need to understand the mathematics they learn; and it will explicitly include differentiation. Response to Intervention (RTI) and behavior also fall under the umbrella. “It’s a tremendous undertaking,” Mr. Reyes said.
Second, another major piece is the core instruction. Mr. Reyes said the District is transitioning to the fourth edition of “Everyday Mathematics” in K-2 grade levels at non-TWI schools and to the third edition of “Connected Mathematics Program” at grades 6-8 this year, and it will transition to Everyday Mathematics at the remaining elementary grades next year. While the prior editions of these texts were aligned with the Common Core State Standards, the new editions are “completely aligned” with the common core, said Mr. Reyes.
“We are continuing to think through our program and practice to ensure we’re providing robust core instruction to all of our students,” said Mr. Reyes.
The District is partnering with colleagues at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago to provide professional development to teachers.
Third, Mr. Reyes said they are looking at acceleration, which has been used by the District to advance higher-achieving students by skipping a grade, for example from fifth to seventh or sixth to eighth. He said he has been holding monthly meetings with colleagues at Evanston Township High School about acceleration and generally around high-quality mathematics instruction. He said he has also been meeting with principals, teachers and parent groups.
Mr. Reyes said some of the issues being considered on acceleration are how to align the Common Core State Standards, which provide more rigorous expectations for students, impact course-taking and the pathways for mathematics. He added that one concern is that students who skip a grade miss learning core content, which may impact them in higher-level math courses. He said, “The goal here is to think how we’re defining the core sequence, the pathway for students.”
He said he wanted to finalize a mathematics acceleration plan for the 2015-16 school year by March.
Fourth, “One of the major things we’re doing that many folks are excited about is the pilot for the Math Fluency Tutors Program,” said Mr. Reyes. The program is similar to the reading fluency program. It will use community volunteers to support struggling students develop math fluency in the early grades. The program is being piloted in 18 first grades at six schools between February and May. There are about 20 volunteers who completed a training course who will work with small groups of students one or two times a week for 30 minutes per session.
Mr. Reyes said they will assess what kind of impact the pilot has and how to expand it. “It’s pretty apparent that course correction and teacher improvement from feedback is already happening,” he said.
School Board member Candance Chow praised the tutoring program. She said she took the training program and “it’s amazing to me how well-developed the curriculum was and the approach.” She added, “I think it’s a huge lever because we have so many parents, community members who want to be part of helping students.”
Referring to MTSS, Ms. Chow said, “About a year ago we did not have a real strong framework for RTI in math and interventions in math. You’ve identified two clear areas where we a had need for improvement and you hit the ground running on them. So, thank you.”
Ms. Chow asked how differentiation in math would be operationalized under MTSS, noting that it has been operationalized in literacy.
Mr. Reyes said, “One of the major pieces of MTSS will center around ‘how do we deliver high-level core instruction, Tier I instruction, for all students.” He said differentiated instruction will be an explicit part of that. He said the team will define “differentiation options” which may include instructional materials and strategies and how to use small group instruction in the classroom.
Several Board members asked questions or commented on acceleration. One issue that Mr. Reyes focused on was that many students who are accelerated “have content gaps,” much of which is due to skipping grades. “Much of the foundational content that’s skipped ends up being problematic.” He said he wants to be sure that kids are prepared to take advanced levels of mathematics at the high school.
Ms. Chow asked if there is a better way to accelerate.
Board President Tracy Quattrocki said the District at one time accelerated, fifth-graders into “Gateways,” which combined sixth- and seventh-grade math into one year, so students did not skip content but took it an accelerated pace. She suggested that type of model be looked at.
“What you’re saying is what’s emerging quite a bit for the group,” said Mr. Reyes.
Board members also focused on the students who are not meeting college readiness benchmarks. Ms. Chow said only 11% of black students meet college readiness benchmarks on the MAP test. She said the District needs to better prepare students, perhaps through earlier interventions or through programs like Project Excite, so they will have the opportunity to accelerate their learning in the upper grade levels. “We are not preparing all our students to achieve at that level,” she said.
Board member Katie Bailey said 60% of the District’s students are not meeting college readiness benchmarks. “To me that really stands up to where our time and resources should be devoted.”
Suni Kartha asked if the District could use math specialists to work with small groups of students in the classroom similar to the program of using reading specialists to assist struggling readers in the classroom.
“Right now,” Mr. Reyes said, “I think we need to be creative with what we currently have … We’re not in a place right now where we can add a lot of staff.”
Ms. Kartha added, “I would caution about going to a program like Gateways. It sounds to me like going back to some sort of tracking. Before we go back into that, I think we need to think it over.”
Mr. Reyes said, “In any scenario in which you create a model for acceleration, doesn’t that by virtue track – whether its compacting learning or skipping grades?”
Mr. Rykhus asked the administration to bring back the recommendation on acceleration to the Board before announcing it to the community. He also asked that administrators set benchmarks to evaluate the initiatives.