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At the Joint District 65/District 202 Committee meeting on Jan. 21, Board members and administrators from each District continued their discussion of how to implement the Districts’ Joint Literacy Goal. That goal, adopted by both Boards in January 2014, is to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.” 

Representatives of both Districtsexplained how they are addressing the problem of struggling students, in particular those eighth-graders and freshmen whose reading scores fall below the 40th percentile. They also said they saw ways they could expand their joint work and also enlist their community partners in bolstering the literacy of struggling students.

Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at District 202, said the Joint Literacy Goal is a “multi-year goal” and each District is “putting different segments” of it in place.

District 65 Students Reading Below 40th Percentile

“At the last joint meeting we talked about students who graduate from eighth grade reading below the 40th percentile and wanting to find out who they are,” John Price, assistant superintendent of schools, said. “We’ve been working very hard to find out who these students are and how we can serve them better at District 65.”

Figures from District 65 indicate that 115 of its current 731 eighth-grade students are reading below the 40th percentile.

Of those 115 students, 45% have individual education plans (IEPs), 16% are English-language learners (ELLs); 60% are male; 73% are eligible for free lunch; 5% qualify for reduced-price lunch; 52% are black, and 32%, Hispanic.

Mr. Price also said, “Looking at our current eighth-graders, our current seventh-graders and our current sixth-graders, the numbers and percentages are fairly consistent across these grades.”

At present, said Mr. Price, “We are working on a K-2/K-3 reading framework, working with groups of teachers, doing school observations and teacher observations to develop what’s turning into what will be, this spring, a major shift in practices for the District.

“We are working with students in kindergarten through second grades and in grades 6 through 8 … to build a consistency of great practices” for General Education that can be adapted for ELLs and students with IEPs,” Mr. Price said. Stacy Beardsley, District 65’s interim executive director of Curriculum & Instruction, is facilitating that work, he said.

Paul Goren, District 65 Superintendent, said there is a need for “collaborative intervention.”

District 202 Students Reading Below the 40th Percentile

Scott Bramley, associate principal for literacy and instruction at Evanston Township High School, said at the high school there are 98 students in Reading Support, which is for students reading below the 40th percentile as measured by the Measures of Academic Progress test given to eighth-graders in the spring and by additional testing in the fall. District 202 is offering academic supports to the students though the Academic Intervention Team and professional development to the teachers.

“The Academic Intervention Team offers organizing skills, processing skills, homework help and monitoring of grades. The students meet individually once a week with counselors,” Mr. Bramley said.

Frequent testing allows the teachers to respond quickly and flexibly to the students’ progress or needs, he said.

The professional training “focused on the public area of professional practice – addressing social-emotional learning, well-being, equitable access to reading and developing inquiry-rich classrooms,” Mr. Bramley said.

“What we are trying to make our staff aware of is the need to have inquiry-rich classrooms, having students invested in what they’re reading … teaching students how to progress and develop into literacy. It’s not just decoding words on a page,” Mr. Bramley said.

In addition, “This past summer the reading specialist worked with reading-support teachers to revise the curriculum and aligned it more with the Common Core State Standards,” Mr. Bramley said.

The “6-12 Instructional Arc”

District 65 Board member Candance Chow said, “At the State level, there are instructional changes, with movement toward a [grade] 6-12 instructional arc.”

District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki suggested bringing some of the high school’s academic support programs into the middle schools.

“Focusing on middle schools, the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and Striving To Achieve Excellence (STAE) programs “are such strong programs at the high school. I know that many, many years ago we had a similar program at the middle schools,” Ms. Quattrocki said.

Marcus Campbell, assistant superintendent/principal at ETHS, said, “In the past we went to the middle schools … the teachers were interested in AVID. We found that AVID works well…for middle schools.”

District 202 Board member Anne Sills questioned the financial viability of such programs. “Can we put these kinds of supports in place financially? … How do we engage the community and Northwestern University? I think we need to see how we’re going to financially support this,” she said.

Focus of the Joint Literacy Goal

Ms. Chow suggested that one focus of the Joint Literacy Goal be the students reading below the 40th percentile. She asked whether the District should try to reach those students, because “there’s an immediate effect,” such as not being able to succeed in high school.

“Statistically there are going to be kids below the 40th percentile,” said Dr. Goren. “My worry is that it’s disproportionate. … How can we address in a targeted way the disproportionality?”

Dr. Witherspoon said he would like to use the old-fashioned phrase “‘reading at grade level.’ It gives a cognitive framework. A student entering high school needs to read at a high-school level” for biology, history and other courses in addition to English, he said.

Dr. Goren said the fact that 80 kids in third grade are reading below the 40th percentile, “sets a statement that at third grade we are already struggling. … What’s going on at preschools? What’s going on at kindergarten? Where is the collaboration?”

“How many of the 98 students spent their kindergarten- through-eighth-grade years in the District?” asked District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum, adding, “It would be interesting to know.”

“We don’t know all of the mobility,” said Dr. Witherspoon.

Summer – Even a “Plateau” Could Be a Gain

Dr. Witherspoon also said, “One of the things that concerns us – and I know it concerns you – is the loss of learning over summer. … If we could just plateau – if we could figure out something so even if there’s no gain, there’s no loss of learning over the summer.”

The District 65 Board has been focusing on the summer learning loss for the last three years in developing its summer programs. It has partnered with Foundation 65, the McGaw Y and Youth & Opportunity United to design programs that address summer learning loss and improve achievement during the summer months.

“And that leads right to Cradle to Career. How do we mobilize our resources in this community?” asked Dr. Witherspoon.

Dr. Witherspoon also said he would like to get “every one of these students into a full-blown summer program. … How do we get families to understand this is really not an option?”

District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “I think I’ve read of places that do this: I think we might pay the kids. … This could be a summer job, especially for incoming ninth-graders. It would teach them responsibility.

“We could do it for $10,000 [total]. We could say, ‘We’ll pay you $100 if you come here and have good attendance …”

Dr. Goren said, “This is exciting. These are plans to leverage [what we have]. We can take it to the City with their camps and ask them to have ‘drop and read’ moments – even in the sports camps.”

“Proficiency” in the Joint Literacy Goal

Mr. Baum asked a question that he had brought up at previous meetings. “Have we thought about what ‘reading-proficient’ means in third grade… in tenth grade?” he asked, noting that this is the third year of the Joint Literacy Goal.

The two Districts use different assessments to ascertain proficiency levels, and the two do not align. Dr. Witherspoon said he did not believe that either District would wish to give up its test.

“Maybe there are two numbers,” said Mr. Baum. “We believe the number we want in second grade should translate to what we want [in high school or eighth grade]. Couldn’t we acknowledge that ‘We want you to do this well on Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) … and this well on MAP?’” he asked.

Ms. Quattrocki said, “The goal for a joint meeting in spring would be to see how that would look. I think we should have a framework by the spring.”

District 202 Board member Mark Metz said, “This is at the very center of what the districts have to do. This is our most important work.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...