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At the Joint District 65/202 Committee meeting on Sept. 14, several members of each Board and the top administrators from each District met to discuss agenda items for the Joint District 65/202 School Board meeting scheduled for Oct. 23.

Participants in the Sept. 14 meeting discussed a wide range of topics including the Districts’ Joint Literacy Goal, alignment and linkage of the Districts’ longitudinal data, collaboration between the Districts on equity initiatives, and a closer look at how (TWI) students are faring. 

The Joint Literacy Goal

Representatives of both Districts cited specific ways that the Districts’ partnership with each other and with community organizations, especially those focused on early childhood education, can help achieve the Districts’ Joint Literacy Goal. Adopted by both Boards in January 2014, the Joint Literacy Goal is to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”

District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren suggested that the committee look at the ramifications of Sean Reardon’s nationwide study. “Look at what happens prior to grade three,” he said.

Dr. Reardon, a Stanford education professor who spoke at ETHS on May 4, conducted a study of test scores of all third- through eighth-grade students in the nation over a five-year period. He said the data demonstrate “a very strong relationship” between socioeconomic status and average academic achievement. The data suggests that communities need to consider the opportunity gaps that exist prior to third grade, given that wide gaps in test scores exist by both race and income level at third grade, and all student groups show roughly the same amount of academic growth between third and eighth grades.

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said, “I don’t use [the term] ‘achievement gap’ anymore.” Instead, he said, he uses “equity” versus “inequity.” He suggested that the Districts re-visit the data “to see why these issues are still so compelling in this District.”

District 202 School Board President Pat Savage-Williams agreed. “It’s throughout our system,” she said, noting that the Courageous Conversations National Summit scheduled in October has a special session for school board members.

District 65 Board member Sergio Hernandez said, “The rule we use to measure success is a problem. Look at the opportunity gap. Move beyond test scores. They’ll always tell us there will be this differential. If we can have a more comprehensive look at opportunity gaps and how we can close those – [they are] measureable in after-school program attendance – then the outcome in test scores will improve.”

Dr. Goren suggested that the committee look into the work that Cradle to Career does relative to early childhood development, as well as other opportunities for community partnerships. “A vast number of children are getting pre-K experience. Now we are looking at the quality of that experience and what does it tell us,” he said.

Dr. Goren said the committee will look further at Dr. Reardon’s data, opportunity and access, and the work of Cradle to Career and other potential community partners. “The 80% of time outside the school day is important. What do we do to partner with organizations?” Dr. Goren asked. In the same vein, Dr. Witherspoon pointed out that only 14% of a student’s waking hours are spent in school.

The TWI Program

District 65 Board member Rebeca Mendoza said, “As we work to expand TWI, how are we faring?” Ms. Mendoza suggested that the committee look at cross data between the Districts. Dr. Witherspoon confirmed that every student entering ETHS takes a language placement test. However, TWI students are automatically placed in “Two for TWI” level 2 Spanish at ETHS.

Dr. Witherspoon suggested the Joint Committee take a closer look at how TWI students are doing as they progress through middle school and the high school.

Dr. Goren said a proposal to expand the TWI program at the K-5 grade levels at District 65 will be presented at the Nov. 6 or Nov. 13 District 65 Board meeting. He called for a broader analysis of students as they go through District 65 and 202 language programming. “The Two-Way Immersion program is an excellent joint District research study,” he said.

Aligning Assessments to Measure Progress

Scott Bramley, Associate Principal for Literacy and Instruction at Evanston Township High School, proposed that the Districts develop a series of rubrics that describe what proficiency would look like over the K-12 continuum. The goal, Mr. Bramley said, is to “make sure we’re aligned” in terms of common core, common language and expectations, and increased challenge and rigor. The alignment should result in less re-teaching of material, he said.

In District 65, rubrics are being used in grades 6-8. ETHS is currently identifying where rubrics will be used.

“The plan is to use rubrics, come back with data in February, and look at the product we’re getting,” said Mr. Bramley. Teacher feedback will be used to evaluate effectiveness.

District 202 Board Member Jonathan Baum pointed out that when the Joint Literacy Goal was adopted, the initial plan was to define what is meant by proficiency at 12th grade, and to backmap to determine where students needed to be starting in third grade, or earlier, to be on track to being proficient in twelfth grade. He asked what progress was being made to achieve that plan.

Administrators said that the tests being used to measure achievement have changed in the last several years, which has made it difficult to measure progress on a consistent basis between the Districts. District 65 uses the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test at third through eighth grades, and District 202 is shifting to use the SAT at 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

A preliminary study attempts to align MAP with the SAT, said Dr. Goren. This may enable the Districts to track progress from third to 12th grades, but the study is not yet final.

Dr. Goren said, “Stay tuned on alignment. … We’re on it the best we can be, given the state of Springfield.” He emphasized the importance of linking the Districts’ data.

Defining College Readiness

Dr. Witherspoon said there will be an update in February on team research for the spring. He cited, as an example, the work that ETHS is doing with District 65 and Northwestern University professor David Figlio in an attempt to identify characteristics in grades 3-12 that predict college readiness.

“We know college entrance exams are not the best predictors of success,” said Dr. Witherspoon. Administrators from both Districts have agreed to use a “multiple measures model of college readiness.”

The effort is being supported by grants totaling $1 million from the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. Dr. Bavis said there is excitement surrounding “a larger and more formal partnership between the Districts and NU.”

While the work has been ongoing for more than a year, the School Boards have not yet decided on the level of proficiency that they will expect students to achieve by the end of 12th grade, or that they will expect administrators to use in developing an equitable educational system for all students.

For example, the Boards have not yet decided whether they will deem it satisfactory if they have prepared a student to gain admittance to and to persist for four semesters at a community college, or if they will expect students to be prepared so they have an opportunity to gain admittance to and to persist for four semesters at more competitive colleges, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago, or Loyola University, or Northern Illinois University.

It does not appear that this issue will be on the agenda of the Oct. 23 Joint Board meeting.

Equity Initiatives

Dr. Goren stressed the importance of collaboration between the Districts this year to develop a growth in understanding on what it means to be white in today’s society, to push hard on the Districts’ joint equity agenda, and to increase Beyond Diversity training. He said many staff members were trained last school year, and 140 staff members and 90 parents are scheduled to receive training this year.

Dr. Goren said that District 65 has focused on the hiring process for principals. Candidates are questioned as to their level of awareness with regard to race and culture, and trained using an equity perspective. “Principals are attuned to where the District is with the Equity Initiative. Think about race and the role it plays in the classroom. Bring an equity lens into this,” Dr. Goren said.  These changes in hiring are “pushing our institutional norms to change.”

Dr. Witherspoon said, based on Beyond Diversity II training, “We confronted the data on black male students as the lowest achieving subgroup we can identify.” He said District 202 is committed to creating an adaptive change around black males, and it will take strategic action with a lens of the black male, as well as a lens of equity.

“Anything we can address and change will ultimately benefit all students. We have evidence in the past that all students benefit from changes that help a group of students,” Dr. Witherspoon said. “The core of people embracing this is profound – 85-90% of people embrace it. This works. We will, in a measureable way, accomplish things.”

Ms. Savage-Williams said that the 2017 National Summit for Courageous Conversation is another opportunity for the districts to work together.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.