At the joint meeting of the District 65 and 202 School Boards on Oct. 29, Stacy Beardsley, District 65 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, and Scott Bramley and Kiwana Brown, the Associate Principal for Instruction and the Literacy and School Wide Reading Specialist for District 202, provided an update on the School Boards’ Joint Literacy Goal.

The goal, adopted in January 2014, provides, “District 65 and District 202 will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach the 12th grade.”

The presentation sparked a wide-ranging discussion about the data and the need to provide data for each grade-level going back to 2015 that would inform Board members and the community on whether progress is being made to meet the goal or not.

While there was significant discussion about the limited data provided and the lack of alignment of the data, Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 202, said the freshman class this year at Evanston Township High School includes 128 students who are not proficient in reading. “We’re not knocking it out of the park no matter what data we’re using,” he said. 

Reading Programs and the Data

A memo prepared by Dr. Beardsley said only 55% of the students entering kindergarten in 2018 were “kindergarten ready,” using District 65’s definition. The percentage is down from 57.8% in 2014.

The District defines “kindergarten-ready” as scoring above the 50th percentile in at least four of the five areas assessed on Illinois Snapshot on Early Literacy (ISEL): alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, one-to-one matching, letter sounds, and story listening. The District has cautioned, however, that ISEL does not capture the full array of skills that are associated with readiness for kindergarten.

Dr. Beardsley said, “District 65 has focused professional learning and resources on strengthening our kindergarten- to third-grade literacy since 2015.” She said this has been a “significant priority” of the literacy department, and they are relying on the research of Shanahan & Shanahan to guide their work. 

The District uses the Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA) to assess early literacy skills, she said. The DRA is given by a teacher one-on-one with a student three times a year in first through third grades and twice in kindergarten. “The DRA has grade-level benchmarks for each testing period, so a teacher is able to assess a student’s progress relative to those targets and can design small group work or interventions for students who are not meeting the benchmarks,” said Dr. Beardsley.

The chart, below, shows in the first four columns the percentage of kindergarteners, first graders, second graders and third graders, by subgroup, who met DRA’s benchmarks in 2018.

Table No. 1 below shows the increase or decrease in the percentage of students who met DRA benchmarks in kindergarten through third grade on the 2018 DRA, compared to the benchmark year 2014-2015. The data shows there has been an increase in the percentage of kindergarteners and first graders meeting DRA benchmarks, but second grade is generally flat and there is a decrease at third grade.

District 65 also provided data showing that 59.8% of third- through eighth-graders met college readiness benchmarks in reading on the Spring 2018 Measures of Academic Progress Test (MAP). This was down from 61.5% in 2015. 

The fifth column in the chart, above, shows the percentage of Black, Hispanic, and White students who met college readiness benchmarks in reading on the MAP test in 2018. The chart illustrates that benchmarks to meet college readiness on the MAP test in reading are higher than DRA’s benchmarks. For example, the data shows that 67% of Black third-graders met DRA benchmarks in 2018, while only 32% of Black third- through eighth-graders met college readiness benchmarks in reading on MAP in 2018.

Dr. Beardsley said the District is not only attempting to achieve the literacy goal by focusing on strengthening instruction and providing professional development, but also by implementing a  culturally responsive curriculum, strengthening its Multi-Tiered System of Support, and by embedding equity learning and awareness into the curriculum. 

School District 202 – ETHS

Ms. Brown said, “There are many efforts given to assure students are placed according to their academic needs at ETHS. In school year 2017-2018, ETHS decided to place incoming freshmen students in academic supports using MAP scores. “This practice allowed more incoming freshman students to be placed in courses where they were allowed to earn Honors credit while offering interventions to students who needed the additional supports most,” said Ms. Brown.

Ms. Brown said ETHS uses the STAR reading assessment “as its universal screener and progress monitoring tool for the tier 2 reading intervention program.” The STAR reports provide resources that “support individualized instruction to target students’ reading strengths and areas of growth,” said Ms. Brown. 

The STAR test is a computer adaptive test that contains about 30 questions and typically takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Some studies say it takes 10 minutes.

Table No. 2 below shows the percentage of incoming freshman at ETHS who were at or above grade level in reading on the Fall 2017 and Fall 2018 STAR tests.

Once incoming freshman have been identified as needing reading supports, ETHS staff recruits them to enroll in the Reading and Math in the Social Context course that ETHS offers as part of summer school. The reading component is designed to support students to improve their level of reading proficiency. Last summer 29 students attended the course, said Ms. Brown.

 ETHS has formed a partnership with Northeastern Illinois University to identify ways to help support student growth. Ten ETHS teachers are participating in NEIU’s Literacy and Language program for certification or endorsements in reading. ETHS has established a Reading Lab which will be designed to support ETHS students’ growth in reading.

Ms. Brown presented data showing that 41% of Black students, 48% of Hispanic students, and 93% of White students met SAT’s college readiness benchmark in reading as 11th graders in 2018.

Dr. Bavis said that the SAT uses a different definition of college readiness than MAP, and that the benchmark used for the SAT is lower than that used by MAP. He said the percentage of students meeting the SAT’s college readiness benchmarks will thus be “significantly higher” than the percentage of eighth graders who are college ready according to MAP. Dr. Bavis said, “It looks different partially because kids grow and mature, but also it’s a different measure.”

“We need to agree on that difference and it’s not a reflection on District 65 or 202,” Dr. Bavis added. “We can’t claim 40% growth. We know that’s not realistic, nor is it accurate or is it fair.”

Board Discussion

District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston asked why the data presented did not go back to 2014. She said, “Year to year change doesn’t tell us very much. You really need a group of years to be able to gauge that. Can we get that?”

Ms. Livingston continued, “I can’t imagine anything more important than what we’re doing to getting our kids to be able to read. We know if they can’t read they can’t do anything else. It’s so fundamental and foundational. That’s why we have a joint reading goal. That’s why it’s a singular focus of Cradle to Career. … Our two Districts and our community should be proud that we are trying to have a singular focus.”

At a minimum Ms. Livingston said she would like to see the data reported by grade level going back to 2014.

District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum said, “This is very frustrating. I feel like we’re stuck in Ground Hog Day.

 “This is not a joint report. This is a compilation of a report from District 65 and a report from 202.”

Mr. Baum said MAP and STAR are not aligned, pointing out the data indicates that students are reading better at the beginning of 9th grade than at the end of 8th grade.

District 65 Board member Candance Chow said, “We adopted a goal that we want every student to be … proficient and college ready by 12th grade. That was four-and-a-half years ago. Today I don’t have a way to say are we closer to that goal by 12th grade or are we further away.”

Understanding that MAP and STAR do not align, Ms. Chow asked for data going back to 2015, by grade level.

She noted that District 65 was reporting that 60% of third- through eighth-graders were college ready using MAP and District 202 was reporting that 66% of incoming freshman were proficient in reading, so the difference was not “huge.”

Ms. Chow acknowledged while there was a reporting issue, “There’s great work going on in both or our Districts.”

District 65 Board member Joey Hailpern said even assuming that MAP and STAR do not align, administrators should be able to put together a chart showing the percentage of third- though twelfth-graders who met the expected target. He said a line could be put between the eighth and ninth grades, with a note saying the assessment changed between those grades.

Mr. Hailpern added that he has a child in kindergarten at District 65, and he recently went to a parent conference. He said he was “wildly impressed with the presentation about how my child was being taught reading. I thought that was phenomenal.”

District 65 Board President Suni Kartha likewise said District 65 could report the data for K-8 using MAP and District 202 could report the data of for 9-12, using STAR.

District 65 Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti asked if MAP and STAR were aligned in reporting whether students were proficient readers. She asked if it was possible to report out the data based on proficiency alone, rather than proficiency and college readiness.

Ms. Livingston said, “We have three or four people around the table on both of our Boards who have said, ‘Look we have two measurement systems. Let’s at least get the data reported out using the two measurement systems.’”

Monique Parsons, Vice President of the District 202 School Board, suggested putting the issue back in the administration’s laps and hold them accountable “to get the information we need to see the story and tell the story.”

Dr. Bavis, said, “I really feel the more this goes into a data discussion the more we lose sight of the 72 Black male students who are not proficient in reading and the 56 Black female students who are not proficient in reading, when they entered as freshman at ETHS this year.  The numbers are really not where they need to be and that’s on the adults, that’s on the educators.

“We don’t need a letter agreement to get together and talk about reading and talk about race and equity, and really make decisions about investments for all kids.”

District 65 Board President Suni Kartha, who chaired the meeting, summed it up saying, “We’re asking for data to understand how we are progressing to meet the goal. We understand the assessments don’t align perfectly.”


Pre-K, Ages 0-5, Development

 “The story that’s missing from here is our early childhood,” said District 65 Board member Rebeca Mendoza. “So many of our kids are coming in to kindergarten not ready for kindergarten.

“I feel like early childhood is missing from the work. … We have to include in this analysis are kids ready for kindergarten and what are we doing in this community with all these pieces to insure that they are ready.”

“I agree with you that that’s missing in this presentation,” said District 65 Board President Suni Kartha. She said Dr. Beardsley said part of the next step was to look at pre-K, and added, “We need to be looking even before pre-K.”

She also said part of the focus of Cradle to Career was a focus on the 0-5 age group. “I think we need to continue the push on that, but there is some work that’s happening and hopefully we can report more specifically on that.”


Whole Language v. Phonetic Instruction

District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston brought up an opinion piece published in the New York Times in the last week, “Why We’re Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way.” She said, “In a nut shell, the take away for me was this ongoing conflict between whole language instruction and phonetic instruction.” She asked administrators for their reaction to the opinion piece.

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said, “What we have identified is that we get a lot of students who have reading needs when they enter high school. We realize that we may not be able to get all of them to have proficient reading skills, but we do consider it our responsibility – we have them for four years.

“If a child comes reading at the fifth- or sixth-grade level, we need to be measuring how much growth we can get within the four years of high school.”

With respect to the debate about whole language and phonetics, he said, “We understand that different students need different strategies. If certain strategies do not work for them, then we need to use different strategies for those students.”

Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 65, said, “We define our curriculum in terms of strategies that do work. We’ve made some real advances in our kindergarten and first grade space by paying attention to the rules and codes that have to be paid attention to in early literacy.”

She added that the District has interventions for students, and it is continually examining what students’ needs are and what the District needs to do to meet those needs. Dr. Beardsley added that the District has reading interventionists at all of its schools serving K-5 students.


Implementing STAR at K-8, Not an Option

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon suggested that District 65 use the STAR test, so that the Districts would be using STAR for the K-12 grade levels. He said the MAP assessment “tops out at the high school” and is not a useful measure of high school grades.

Stacy Beardsley, District 65’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, saida that District 65 administers MAP three times a year and the State is planning to introduce a new assessment in the spring of 2019. She said the District is evaluating its assessments, and “there can be a conversation about whether we are using the right assessment, but I think adding is not a possibility at this time.”