Oak Park and River Forest school officials, analyzing the results of the 2020-21 Illinois Report Card, say the data presented is limited and not representative of their students’ overall academic performance, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a continuing issue. 

“I can’t really talk to you about where we are because we’re still trying to see what kind of information the state will be sending us,” said Dawne Simmons, a communications and community outreach coordinator at River Forest School District 90.

Data from Illinois Assessment Readiness (IAR), which measures students’ performance in English and math, is shown on the report card, but Simmons said that is just one factor school officials to measure determine students’ growth.

In the 2020-21 school year, 48% of D90 students “met” the state’s set standards in English, which remains consistent with the percentage reported in 2019. Forty-eight percent of students also “met” the state’s expectations in math, a slight dip from the 53% in 2018-19.

School officials may also see some discrepancies in the number of students who “exceeded” state standards on the IAR exam. Eleven percent of D90 students “exceeded” expectations in English, a decline from 2019-21’s reported 22%, while 9% of students “exceeded” in math, a 1% drop from 2018-19.

IAR aside, Simmons said the district is examining the results from 2020-21 MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests where students scored over the 80th or 90th percentile in reading and math. The latest results from 2020-21 MAP tests have remained steady over the last three years, Simmons said.

“What I can tell you, and what is also supported by the Illinois State Board of Education, is that we continue to review MAP data, and that shows student learning,” she said. “So while IAR shows achievement, MAP shows student learning. They measure two different things, and the IAR data is still what’s coming.”

Districtwide, Simmons noted that teachers, especially this year, have focused on getting their students acclimated and engaged in the classrooms. Teachers and other staff are working with students, sometimes one-on-one, to see how they are adjusting to learning in-person full-time, after a year of remote and hybrid learning.

At Oak Park District 97, school officials also saw similar patterns in results for students who met or exceeded state expectations on the IAR. Forty percent of students at D97 “met” the standards set in English, a 5% jump from 2018-19, according to the report card. The card also showed that 35% of students in 2018-19 and 2020-21 met IAR marks in math.

Like D90, D97 did see a small decrease in the percentage of students who exceeded IAR marks in English and math. Five percent of D97 students exceeded IAR marks in English in 2020-21, down from the 7%, while 6% of students exceeded IAR expectations in math, another slight decrease from the previous 8%.

One area of concern for D97 officials is the number of students who participated in standardized testing last year. The report card revealed that over 60% of students took the tests in 2020-21, a sizable decline from the roughly 90% in years past.

D97 Communications Director Amanda Siegfried said school officials are aware of the participation rate and the inevitable impact of COVID-19 pandemic on students. The school’s IAR Strategy Committee is currently working with faculty and staff to identify short-term and long-term plans to help boost rates in the future, Siegfried said.

She and Eboney Lofton, chief academic and accountability officer, said there were some families who were uncomfortable with the idea of sending their students back to school to take standardized tests, which must be administered in person, Lofton said.

Like most schools last year, D97 teetered between remote and hybrid learning, leaving families to decide whether their children would attend class in-person or stay at home.

“Everyone had the option of participating [in the tests],” Siegfried said, adding the district reached out to students in remote learning and worked with those who chose to return to the school and take the test. 

At D90, students’ participation rate for the 2020-21 standardized tests were about the same as in previous years, averaging about 90%.

One point of progress for both school districts is the number of eighth-graders passing Algebra 1. D90 reported a 98% in that category, which is consistent with previous scores over the last five years. At D97, almost 89% of eighth-graders are passing Algebra 1, showing significant growth since 2017.

In the last four years, a little over 40% of D97 eighth-graders were passing algebra, but recent changes to the math curriculum has helped students, Lofton said. Math for D97’s sixth- through eighth-graders are now more inquiry-based, which gives those students the opportunity to grapple and discuss different math concepts, she explained.

As Oak Park and River Forest school officials reflected on the 2020-21 report card, they talked about continuing their plans to work closely with families, faculty and staff.

“We really want to understand what’s at the root, really want to unpack that participation [rate] and make sure that we’re targeting [those students] and what our communications will be, what systems are around,” Lofton said.

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