Shrinking the readiness gap one course at a time

OPRF is integrating racial consciousness into curriculum changes

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By Michael Romain 'Say Connects'

Staff reporter

The number of black/African American and Latinx students at Oak Park and River Forest High School who have met all three benchmarks of post-secondary readiness is gradually improving, but the gap between white students and students of color stubbornly persists. Recently, the district has focused its efforts to shrink that readiness gap on a series of data and curriculum improvements. 

According to D200 data, only 38 percent of black/African American students in the class of 2017 had at least two indicators of post-secondary readiness — those indicators include an unweighted GPA of at least 2.7, sufficient course rigor (i.e., whether or not a student has completed honors or AP courses), and an ACT composite score of at least 21 or an SAT composite score of at least 1060. 

By comparison, 71 percent, 89 percent and 92 percent of Latinx, white and Asian students, respectively, had at least two benchmark indicators. 

Over the last year, District 200 has taken a number of actions to more effectively measure those racial disparities and to closely monitor the progress of its equity-related programs. 

Those actions include hiring an information services firm to do empirical research on the effectiveness of the high school's equity-related programs and partnering with Equal Opportunity Schools, an education equity organization based in Seattle, to enroll nearly 200 minority and low-income students into AP courses. 

This school year, the district introduced new guidelines designed to regularly measure the effectiveness of instructional programs and provide students with a curriculum that ensures that they have equal access to content and learning opportunities, said Greg Johnson, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. 

In October, Johnson outlined the creation of the district's new Curriculum Evaluation and Design Manual, which launched this school year. The manual is the beginning of a broader curriculum evaluation and implementation process "that will continue throughout the next several school years," Johnson said. 

Johnson added that the district will use Courageous Conversations About Race, a book by Glenn Singleton and Curtin Linton to help faculty and staff develop their own "racial consciousness," something essential to the district achieving greater equity. 

This culturally responsive approach to teaching, he said, will help guide the development of a curriculum based on social emotional learning and flexible instruction that is tailored to each students' abilities. The evaluation and design of the revised curriculum will also include input from community stakeholders. 

The new culturally sensitive and more individualized curriculum may take at least six years before its fully implemented at all grade levels. 

In the meantime, the district has enacted more immediate curriculum changes designed to broaden the appeal of courses and to connect them to post-secondary pathways and dual credit experiences, Johnson noted in a recent outline of roughly a dozen course revisions for the 2019-20 school year. 

For instance, one revision includes changing a guitar and songwriting course to allow students who don't play instruments or sing the opportunity to enroll. Currently, there are only a handful of courses for students who don't play traditional ensemble instruments. The change, Johnson said, "is designed to address inequity" within OPRF's current music offerings.

"Our students are active partners in our curriculum; as a result, our aim is to engage their natural tendency toward creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking in a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment," Johnson said.

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

Contact:
Email: michael@oakpark.com

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