The difference between Homer's Odyssey and Homer Simpson

Dist. 90 vs. Dist. 97

Opinion

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Jack Crowe

The ISAT test results are out for District 97 and, as usual, the news is just OK. Far too many kids in Oak Park are not performing at grade level for reading and math. Not enough kids are excelling.

I am not a big fan of standardized tests. Michelangelo, Darwin and Einstein managed to create their life works without the benefit of them. That said, standardized tests can tell us a few things.

About 30 percent of Julian's eighth-graders test below grade level in math and 18 percent in reading. The 18 percent number is interesting because that same percentage meets the definition of low-income students. So is poverty the cause of low test scores?

While this could be scary, let's compare the test results from Julian and Roosevelt School in River Forest.

For eighth-graders at Roosevelt, 12 percent test below grade level in math and 6 percent in reading. In other words, Roosevelt has less than half the percentage of failing students as Julian. But only 1 percent of Roosevelt students are low income. So the better Roosevelt scores must be based on higher family incomes. Right?

Not quite. Curriculum plays a role too. I sometimes ask my Julian seventh-grader and his seventh-grade cousin at Roosevelt what they are reading.

At Julian, my son seems to read an endless string of "children's" authors, with stories featuring teenage protagonists. His River Forest cousin always seems to be reading something like Homer's Odyssey.

Could River Forest students tackling Homer?#34;and I don't mean Homer Simpson?#34;be better prepared for ISAT reading tests than Oak Park students reading a steady diet of juvenilia about teenagers taking trips to Mars or fighting the Revolutionary War?

The problem at Julian is two-fold. The middle school curriculum is weak. While getting high marks for inclusiveness, it prescribes a trendy but bland pabulum that fails to inspire or challenge kids at either end of the testing totem pole.

The second problem is one that some may not like to hear. The curriculum is so larded with soft subjects like art, band, computers and foreign languages that English and math teachers do not have the time they need to teach all the children all they need to know.

Notwithstanding the consistently sub-par test results, math gets the same amount of class time as art. Can you imagine being an English teacher with students in one class reading at levels that range from third grade to high school, and you have only 40 minutes a day class time?

Do I expect things to change? No. When my oldest entered Julian 10 years ago, veteran parents advised me not to expect much and to hold on until high school. While things have improved some, I now feel like one of those veterans.

Dist. 97 needs to break the mold that leaves too many children behind. While it has something for everyone, the curriculum fails to teach reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic to the best of each student's ability. Imagine what could happen one day if Oak Park students read the following: "Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. ..."

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