Recent campaign rhetoric by River Forest D90 school board candidate Scott Hall and commentary from local columnist Steve Lefko misconstrue a change in ISBE designation of the district from “exemplary” to “commendable” in a way that is startlingly unconcerned with the specifics of exactly who is lagging in D90: primarily minorities and students with learning disabilities.

As the father of a student who is a diverse learner with an IEP (Individual Education Plan), I feel that both individuals fail to demonstrate sensitivity to the racial and disability-driven achievement gaps that must lie at the heart of any sincere approach to equity River Forest.

Both Hall and Lefko attribute this decline to unspecified curriculum changes implemented since 2015, although neither has substantiated their claim. It is notable that D90’s adoption of “Universal Design for Learning” as part of its 2015 Strategic Plan was intended to “push” IEP students into the classroom with their grade-level peers for more minutes, achieving greater inclusion.

A more likely factor in the drop to “commendable” is the implementation in 2018 of a new Illinois school rating system in compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The legislation tracks students with IEPs and weights their growth more heavily than previously. This can result in schools with high or challenging IEP caseloads falling in rankings.

Neither Hall nor Lefko address local ISBE data showing that, while most white students in D90 continue to comfortably perform well above state averages, there are startling gaps in achievement between white and Black students, and sizable lags among IEP students relative to state standards. Several sitting members of the D90 board stated explicitly during a recent League of Women Voters forum that challenges among these subgroups are the cause of the drop in D90’s classification. There is no mystery here.

Achieving true equity just may mean forgoing the bump to your property values that goes with being “exemplary,” in exchange for improving the lives of your most challenged children.

David Hoyt, River Forest

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