First reported 9/14/2010 11:35 p.m.

Four of 10 schools in Oak Park elementary and middle school District 97 did not make adequate yearly progress on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, according to preliminary data released by the district last week.

Lincoln, Holmes, and both middle schools, Julian and Brooks, failed to make AYP this year. The six other schools in the district-Mann, Hatch, Longfellow, Whittier, Beye and Irving-did meet state standards. With respect to Irving and Whittier, both schools bounced back this year to make AYP, showing strong gains among its subgroups in order to meet standards.

Preliminary results were released Sept. 14 at the District 97 Board of Education meeting. Kevin Anderson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, credited the principals at Whittier and Irving for their schools’ improvement. Reading interventions were among the things they implemented, Anderson said.

The threshold for this year’s test is for 77.5 percent of students in every subgroup to meet or exceed standards in reading and math.

While white students in Dist. 97 scored well above that threshold, black, low-income and special education students’ scores varied while some of those students missed that target. Some of the schools not making AYP just barely missed for some student groups. Brooks, for instance, failed to meet standards with respect to low-income students in math, whose score was 72 percent. Holmes fell below the mark with black students scoring 62.5 percent in reading, though they did meet the threshold in math.

Lincoln’s scores for black and special ed students were roughly 60 percent. At Julian, special ed students failed to meet standards in reading and math-66 percent and 64 percent, respectively. This is the first time since 2006 that Julian didn’t make AYP for every subgroup; for Brooks, since 2005.

The district as a whole, however, was able to make AYP with average scores of roughly 90 percent in math and reading for all students. The threshold for meeting AYP increases each year under the federal No Child Left Behind law; last’s year’s target was 70 percent. Every Dist. 97 school had met AYP since 2004 until last year when Whittier and Irving failed to do so in reading.

But both schools showed improvement for their respective subgroups-low-income students at Irving and black students at Whittier. Both subgroups this year were above the 77 percent target in reading.

Appreciation and frustration

The success at both schools and among its students were touted by board members and administrators.

In addition to increased reading instruction, Anderson explained that both schools also worked in small groups with students needing extra help. Teaches also brainstormed on how to improve their classroom instruction, Anderson said. Still, some school board members expressed frustration in not being able to replicate that effort at other schools. They strongly challenged administration and staff to find out what’s working at some schools and spread it to the other buildings.

“It’s great success and that’s fantastic, but why aren’t we doing it in every school,” asked board member Peter Barber. “And not just for the ones who now need to make AYP but, clearly, everyone here and around the country keeps looking for that magic bullet. This seems to be the start of it. So, instead of experimenting why aren’t we just, frankly, demanding-to be extreme for the moment-‘Hey everybody, do what Irving did; do what Whittier did now.’ There’s no reason to not expect similar results.”

Barber said he’s had this frustration since joining the school board and has consistently urged more sharing of solutions among the buildings. Board members Michelle Harton and Jennifer Reddy expressed a similar frustration. Rance Clouser, another board member, noted that much of Whittier’s and Irving’s success was tied to focused instruction and help for specific groups of struggling students. That helped, he said, but did not take away from the education of high-achieving students, an argument sometimes giving by those who worry about fairness.

Concerning replicating success at other schools, Anderson said staff may not feel the same urgency that Whittier and Irving did after not meeting AYP. He noted that some schools which are meeting standards aren’t facing that urgency.

Supt. Albert Roberts, who was hired as superintendent in June, said he’s seeing administrators sharing ideas and strategies about what’s working.

“Part of it is also analyzing what really works within those strategies? What was a really focused effort?” he said.

Roberts acknowledged that some outside pressure was warranted, but warned that demanding progress might create an opposite reaction from staff. The superintendent also talked about changing some of the culture in the buildings, striking a balance between schools maintaining their individuality while also sharing solutions that can be spread throughout the district. Roberts stressed that the district will work to achieve that.


Getting it right

District 97 administration highlighted some of the strategies at Whittier and Irving that allowed those schools to make adequate yearly progress on this year’s ISAT.

Those included:

  • Staff development using 95 Percent Group, Inc. an educational consulting group. Their program provided training for teachers on using instructional time effectively and also accurately assessing student progress.
  • Both schools emphasized flexible groups to address students’ different skill needs. Students were assessed and regrouped frequently based on these assessments. Students whose skills required additional practice were targeted for small learning groups. These groups changed frequently as students progressed through the reading curriculum.
  • Staff supported the increased emphasis on reading skill identification. Re-teaching those skills was a major element of their success, according to the district. That “buy-in” made it easier to provide staff development around the main areas of need.

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