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At the Joint District 65/202 School Board meeting on March 16, administrators provided an update on their efforts to implement the Joint Literacy Goal to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”

As one key strategy to achieve this goal, the Boards decided to adopt and implement “a model of disciplinary literacy.”

Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent of District 202, said administrators from each District have been working together to develop a shared “working definition” of disciplinary literacy. The working definition says, in part, disciplinary literacy is “an instructional framework designed to develop the habits of mind in a given academic discipline by fostering in students the ability to investigate, reason, read, write, talk, and problem solve.”

Habits of mind or habits of thinking “is an umbrella term for knowing how to work in different disciplines,” say Stephanie McConachie and Anthony Petrosky in “Content Matters,” a book used by the Districts to guide their implementation of disciplinary literacy. “The term is a shorthand for the ways that members of different communities read, inquire, reason, investigate, speak, write, and construct their respective knowledge bases.”

As an example, John Price, assistant superintendent of schools at District 65, said, “If you have a problem of world hunger, what are the habits of mind that an artist would bring to that problem? It would be completely different than a sociologist or an economist would bring to the problem.”

Dr. Bavis said administrators have also met together, read relevant literature and research, and observed six classrooms at Evanston Township High School to identify current levels of literacy instruction and examples of best instructional practices. There has also been some professional development.

In observing the classrooms, administrators and teacher leaders looked for instructional practices that exemplified the principles of disciplinary literacy. These principles include “students are enabled and expected to inquire, investigate, read, write, reason, represent and talk,” “students learn by doing the discipline,” and “students are encouraged to take risks, seek and offer help when appropriate, ask questions and insist on understanding the answers, analyze and solve problems, reflect on their learning and learn from one another.”

Mr. Price added that the teams were scheduled to visit classrooms at Haven Middle School on March 19.

“We are meeting and exceeding our goals for where we should be at for our building capacity and shared work together and we’re setting the stage for some great work to come,” said Mr. Price.

Board Comments

Board members praised the collaboration and the work being done, but zeroed in on the goals. District 202 member Mark Metz said, “There’s been great work in
developing and about building capacity.” He asked, though, “In real simple language, what’s the end game? Where’s
this heading?”

Mr. Price said, “This is heading toward a shared understanding of teaching that students will experience as they begin their classes at District 65 and continue on to District 202. This will improve the instruction for all of our children. You will see those outcomes in the Joint Achievement Report.”

He added that District 65 will be looking at what disciplinary literacy looks like at sixth, seventh and eighth grades to ensure there is a good transition to the high school.

District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum said when the Boards adopted the Joint Literacy Goal, they talked about back mapping from college and career readiness in 12th grade to where students needed to be in tenth, eighth, fifth and third grades. He asked, “Have we reached a common understanding of what that 12th-grade objective is and how it will be measured and have we reached a common understanding of the benchmarks along the way that we need to get there?”

Dr. Bavis responded, “Right now, no. … The best understanding we have right now is the ACT definition, and that’s 
what we have held onto at the high school in terms of what college and career readiness is.”

Part of the Joint Literacy Goal is that students be “proficient” in reading, said Scott Bramley, associate principal for instruction and literacy at District 202. He added that District 65 can measure progress toward proficiency in reading using the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test and District 202 can do so using the STAR test.

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said, “We must be committed that every child in this community is going to be a proficient reader. … We’re going to have to really bear down and look at every grade level, every year, every child and make sure the children in this community are proficient readers.”

Following up on Mr. Baum’s question, District 65 Board member Candance Chow said the Districts should jointly decide for each grade level the metric that would be used to measure students’ progress. She also asked if Districts 65 and 202 could look at other school districts that are implementing disciplinary literacy to see how they are progressing.

Mr. Bramley said that any state that has adopted the common core state standards, in essence, needs to adopt the disciplinary literacy framework. “It’s deeply embedded in the common core state standards,” he said. He added, though, that few school districts were ahead of Districts 65 and 202 in the implementation process.

Shifting gears, District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki whether District 65’s curriculum was preparing eighth-graders for Shakespeare, Dickens and other complex texts required in freshman year at the high school.

Mr. Bramley said, “That’s a difficult question to answer.” Based on “general observations,” he said, the answer is “yes. I’ve been in humanities classrooms. Students are not falling apart when they’re asked to read an extended piece of literature. But that is one of the areas we continue to learn from each other.”

District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren said, “In developing the strategic plan, we’ve talked about curriculum-mapping and we’ve talked about ‘What does the curriculum map look like throughout the years?’ and then, in collaboration, ‘What does that really mean as the students land here at the high school?’ Are we there yet? No. But are we on the road to being there? Yes.”

District 202 Board President Gretchen Livingston said she would like the Districts to jointly develop a “dashboard” that contains very clear markers to use in monitoring student achievement. “It has to be displayed in a way people can understand,” she said

Last year, the District 65/202 School Boards asked the superintendents to develop a Joint Achievement Report. On March 16, Carrie Levy, director of research, evaluation and assessment at District 202, and Peter Godard, chief officer of research, accountability and data at District 65, presented a proposal developed by the Superintendents to satisfy this request. It represents the first joint achievement report to be prepared by the Districts.

The Superintendents propose to prepare a joint achievement report each year on or before Nov. 30. Each year the report will address a specific research question or questions, which may reflect a longitudinal evaluation of student achievement or an evaluation of a specific program. The Superintendents will decide on the research question. Questions that can be answered by a District on its own, without collaboration from the other District, will not be included in the report.

The question posed for the first report is: “From Kindergarten through Grade 12, are students on track for college and career readiness in reading?”

It is envisioned that District 65’s outcomes in reading for the K-2 grade levels will be measured by DRA and ISEL for grades K-2, and by MAP for the 3-8 grade levels. The ACT will be one test used to measure reading outcomes at District 202. 

Dr. Levy said, “We are in the process of defining what do we mean by on track to college and career readiness?” Once that is done, “We can set up a reasonable plan to collect data to do the analyses.”

Mr. Godard said, “I think that’s spot on.” He added that he thought the report would address “some of the questions that came up during the discussion about joint literacy. Our objective is, given the data that we have available today, to think about what is the definition of college and career readiness and for being on track to college and career readiness at each grade level.” He added, “The work is very well aligned with the strategic plan for District 65 which has come up with a score card for the strategic plan.”

Board members asked that the data be reported by race, household income, and disability status and that the data by race be broken out by household income.

District 65 Board member Katie Bailey pointed out that District 65’s achievement report reflects, “When we take poverty out of it, we still have a huge gap [by race]. I think it’s really important to look at that.”

District 65 Candance Chow likewise said it would be important to track the results by subgroup to see if there were shifts in growth trends. “That will be very telling for us,” she said.

District 65 Board member Suni Kartha asked if the achievement profile would be reported each year, or if the report would only focus on the new research question specified for that year. Mr. Godard made clear the K-12 achievement data would be reported each year.  

Some Additional Joint Literacy Programs


In addition to the focus on disciplinary literacy, the Districts are collaborating on at least three other programs. 

First, Oakton Scholars is a mentoring and tutoring program designed for approximately 20 high school students at ETHS to mentor and tutor elementary students at Oakton Elementary School who scored mid-range in reading and comprehension on the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA). The high school students receive community service hours for volunteering to tutor and mentor elementary students of color.

Second, through a grant proposal submitted to the Evanston Community Foundation, District 65 eighth-grade students who enroll in ETHS’s “Reading and Math in the Social Context” summer course will participate in a program offered by the Evanston Public Library  (EPL) and Literature for All of Us. These groups will facilitate discussions of selected literature and art centered on responses to police and violence.

Third, subject to the approval of a grant proposal, Districts 65 and 202 will partner with EPL in The Big Read, which engages the entire community in an effort to celebrate and support literacy. EPL selected Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel, Into the Beautiful North. The novel is set in the present day in a highly charged world of the U.S.-Mexico border region.

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...