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At the Joint District 65/202 School Board meeting on March 14, both Districts expressed their commitment and highlighted efforts to support students who score at or below the 40th percentile on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren began the discussion by stating “what we know” about students at District 65 whose performance or achievement is lagging:

• More than 200 children land in kindergarten without one or more of the requisite skills to have a successful kindergarten experience;

• About 185 students get to third grade reading at or below the 40th percentile;

• About 165 students at sixth grade would be at the 40th percentile or below; and

• About 115 eighth-graders are at the 40th percentile or below.

The 200 students arriving unprepared for kindergarten is a “point where we need to intervene,” said Dr. Goren.

“We have identified all the children who fall underneath the 40th percentile or underneath the 25th percentile,” Dr. Goren added. “Our principals know, our teachers know, our specialists know, so we can more rapidly serve their needs. We also know that relationships matter. Welcoming and engaging families is really key; supports matter.

“We can diagnose many different areas where kids are struggling: They have language difficulties, in reading, writing and comprehension. Many are English-language learners. Some are homeless. Numeracy skills are lagging. Social-emotional skills need to be paid attention to. We match services to needs, with reading specialists, speech pathologists, social workers and psychologists.”

Every child scoring at or below the 25th percentile has a plan, either a response to intervention plan or an individual education plan, Dr. Goren said. “The District 65 Board has set very aggressive performance goals for students in the bottom quartile,” he added. “We are focused on supports in and outside of the classroom.”

“District 65 is committed to the success of every student,” said Assistant Superintendent John Price. Referring to the strategic plan adopted in March 2014 by the Board, he said the District will provide the appropriate supports and services for the unique needs of each student; focus on systems-level ways to raise the overall quality of instruction; and increase the alignment with community partners.

“Students not yet at grade level are one of our most urgent issues,” Mr. Price said. Minority students and low-income students comprise the majority of the 115 eighth-grade students scoring below the 40th percentile on the fall MAP test. Of these 115 students, 97 (84%) are black or Hispanic; 30 (26%) are making expected gains; 36 (31%) have been in the District for fewer than three years; and 90 (78%) qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The services for these 115 students include regular classroom instruction; 92 of the students receive additional support in the form of an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a response to intervention plan or English-language-learner services.

Mr. Price also mentioned several pilot programs to boost core academic learning and said, “Our level of urgency is expressed in some of the pilots and some of the innovative practices.”

Joyce Bartz, assistant superintendent of special services for the District, described some of the wraparound services for struggling students, such as increased efforts in alternatives to suspension, expanded social-emotional learning practices and restorative justice programs, creation of school climate teams, efforts to reduce truancy and training social workers to work with children who have experienced trauma.

“All these except the alternatives to suspension are new this year,” Ms. Bartz said.

“The principals and social workers are developing social-emotional learning within each school,” Ms. Bartz said. Restorative Justice will expand to another six schools next year. “It’s largely sharing circles and peace circles, and the teachers find it very impactful,” she said.

School Climate teams will be the framework to support relationships, instruction and safety within a school. “We are using the National School Climate Center standards,” she said.

Support for special needs students includes a co-teaching model to support inclusion practices in all middle schools, Ms. Bartz said. Workshops conducted in connection with Have Dreams, a local agency that serves children, teens and young adults impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder, will train teachers to work more effectively with students on the autism spectrum, she added.

The District provides “intense reading supports” for students scoring below the 25th percentile, including students whose first language is not English. “We have developed new tools to identify students needing supports. We are improving tracking of student services and monitoring progress,” Ms. Bartz said.

“We’ll continue to focus on kids who are struggling,” Dr. Goren said. “If we had one program – one single solution – for the complex lives our kids live, we would implement it.”

Striving Students at ETHS

In the 2011-12 school year, 48 students were enrolled in ETHS’s RE0180, “Reading with Supports” course, a course for freshman who scored below the 40th percentile in reading on MAP. Of those, 60% were black, 27% Hispanic, 13% had an IEP, 2% were English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, and 79% were from low-income households.

This year, 101 students are taking the course. Of those, 52% are black, 36% Hispanic, 20% have an IEP, 20% are ESL, and 67% are from low-income households.

Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at ETHS, described efforts at the high school to assist striving students. The disciplinary literacy committee is working with teachers in each department to study the disciplinary literacy principles and investigate how to integrate them into classes, he said.

Other efforts include the revision of the RE0180 Course Curriculum, professional development, academic interventions, establishing a free summer learning course, and additional programming through community partnerships. These efforts were outlined for the District 202 Board at a Feb. 22 meeting and are described in more detail in an article “Evanston is in the Midst of a Reading ‘Crisis’” appearing in the Feb. 25 issue of the RoundTable.

Joint District Commitment

Joint literacy work is embedded in the Districts’ Joint Literacy Goal, a long-term goal adopted in January 2014 to ensure that all students are proficient readers and college ready by 12th grade. District 65 and District 202 teams are currently working together to create a system and structure that can support sixth- through 12th grade alignment of student skills and outcomes. Better alignment of rubrics and common language between the Districts may support a smoother transition to ETHS, allow for greater connection and transfer of learning, and lead to greater growth, says the report to the Boards.

“What’s different?” asked Dr. Bavis. “There is a tuning of rubrics and expectations on both sides, using student work, to strengthen the handshake between Districts,” he said. Both Districts are working to “tune and refine for the good of our students.”

Dr. Goren stressed the need to “pay attention to issues kids bring with them” and match services and resources to their needs. “We are eager to do this with the high school,” to work with them “in reaching back.”

“This is the best thing I’ve heard about joint work in a long time,” said District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum.

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...