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Administrators and board members from Evanston Township High School District 202 and Evanston/Skokie School District 65 gathered Monday night at King Arts Magnet School for an Oct. 25 joint meeting to discuss collaborative efforts between the two districts.
Back in January 2014, the two boards approved a historic joint literacy plan with the goal of working together to ensure that all students are proficient readers by the time they enter their senior year of high school. The agreement represented one of the more robust partnerships between districts 65 and 202 in recent memory, but board members pointed out Monday that much of that plan has failed to materialize over the last seven years.
“I just want to reiterate that there’s this deep history,” said District 202 board member Gretchen Livingston, the only current representative who was serving on the board when this resolution passed in 2014. “There’s a certain degree of frustration with the length of time that has passed without a whole lot to show for it. I make that point not to put a damper on anything tonight, but I think it’s important to understand the historical perspective.”
When the school boards launched their joint literacy goals, the districts spent several years having regular collaborative discussions about how to reach those goals, Livingston said. Between the pandemic and the few years prior, the frequency of those conversations began to die down, and accomplishing literacy objectives took a back seat to other agenda items.
But despite a slow start to this program during the last several years, Monday’s meeting also represented a breakthrough in collaboration that many board members have long awaited. At the meeting, ETHS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis and District 65 Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Beardsley rolled out new plans for cooperation between districts in areas beyond just literacy. The focus areas for their collaborative efforts will now also include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), social sciences, college and career readiness and an aligned portrait of a graduate.
Curriculum leaders from both districts in each of these subject areas will meet regularly to exchange ideas and develop shared learning strategies, according to Beardsley and Bavis. They also emphasized that while the districts often faced conflicting challenges in the past because of failures in communication, connecting on multiple levels will help establish a more seamless transition between the districts for students.
“Frequent, structured collaboration is the key this year, and it’s the key going forward,” Bavis said. “We’ve done collaborative efforts in the past, we’ve done joint reporting in the past, and what was really missing was this sort of structure where we could have frequent meetings, not just the two of us, but with our teams in joblike situations.”
Literacy data and goals
One of the problems that the boards encountered after launching the joint literacy plan was the fact that the districts use different standardized tests to measure reading and writing proficiency. District 65 administers the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, while ETHS employs the STAR test to collect data on literacy skills.
After years of trying to figure out how to compare scores on the two different tests, administrators finally unveiled a cohesive plan for consistent proficiency thresholds across the exams in 2019. Between that development and Monday’s announcement expanding the areas for collaboration between districts, many board members expressed optimism about the future of this partnership.
“This level of collaboration is notable and highly desired and overdue, and I had to stop myself from getting up and doing a little Holy Ghost dance about the Google Drive transferring,” said Anya Tanyavutti, President of the District 65 School Board. “I think that is the depth of student knowledge that I hope all of our kids feel like they’re moving on with, that they’re seen and known, and that instruction can immediately be responsive to what their demonstrated needs and interests and talents are.”
Because of the pandemic, students did not take the MAP or STAR tests in 2020, but all grade levels were able to complete the tests either this fall or last spring. As a result, the most recent data on literacy proficiency comes from 2019, which the districts presented to board members at a joint meeting in February 2020.
That data showed the gap between the reading proficiency rates of white students and that of Black and Hispanic students, who tended to hover around a 30-40% proficiency rate in most grade levels. Over 70% of white students in almost every grade, on the other hand, passed the threshold for reading and writing proficiency.
The districts have not yet offered year-over-year growth data to analyze trends over time, though, which is something that Livingston and Tanyavutti found frustrating.
“What I didn’t hear was that longitudinal data sharing plan, and I think that speaks to our ability to have systemic, diagnostic conversations at the policy level,” Tanyavutti said. “So I certainly don’t want to put unnecessary labor on this data sharing process, but it’s also something that we’ve been talking about for years since I joined the District 65 Board five years ago, so at this point, I feel like we’ve had enough time to be thoughtful in bringing that forward.”
Regardless of issues with the data, members across both boards agreed Monday’s meeting demonstrated significant progress after many years of stagnation in collaborative efforts.
“The outcome of those collaborations should yield more information more rapidly than before,” said District 202 Board President Pat Savage-Williams. “So I’m hoping that’s what we’ll see, and when we come back together in February, I’m anticipating that we’ll hear a lot.”