Starting this fall, elementary students in Forest Park will spend 54 more hours in school, and middle school students will gain almost 64 hours of instruction over the course of the school year. Administrators in District 91 hope to devote a large part of those hours to additional mathematics instruction, in part to combat what Superintendent Randolph Tinder calls “historic low scores in math on standardized tests, particularly the ISAT.” Math scores for District 91 are below the state average.

The district’s current summer school program includes reading and social studies ” but not math. It has been funded for three of the last four years by the state, which has specific prescriptions for identifying students who need help in reading and focusing professional development efforts on teaching reading skills.

Tinder said that the possibility of offering math instruction as a part of summer school was addressed at staff meetings, but “we needed to address how we teach math throughout the school year before we devote local dollars to summer school,” he said. For this summer’s session, District 91 was eligible for up to $50,000 in state funding, according to Tinder, though it did not utilize the full amount. Summer school runs for a six-week session, meeting Mondays through Thursdays for four hours in the morning, according to summer school director Susan Bogdan.

“It’s money that we don’t have to spend out of our local budget, but the desired (outcome) is getting help for kids who need it in reading,” Tinder said. “The state program is for summer school for reading, and it’s very, very prescriptive ” teaching the teachers, and then actually what (teachers) teach, even what the kids read.”

Tinder said that he hopes that the additional classroom time will enable an evaluation of whether not added time teaching math is enough, or “if we need to spend local dollars on math inclusion in summer school.”

“(The state) can’t fund everything either, and it’s clear that reading is the key,” he said.

Extra time spent on math instruction will hopefully make a difference for students like the son of District 91 school board member Larry Buckley. Buckley raised a concern at the July 14 board meeting that students failing mathematics in District 91 are not receiving the proper chance to catch up. Buckley was told by a teacher that his son had failed math and was under the impression that his son would receive math instruction in summer school.

“The only thing that they were teaching was reading and social studies, and my (son’s) teacher e-mailed the (summer school) teacher about it and she said that math would start in two weeks, and it didn’t,” Buckley said.

“The thing is, if they weren’t going to teach math they should have told me ahead of time because I could have gotten a tutor (for my son),” he said.

Buckley, who said he has pulled his son out of the summer school program, said he never received a clear answer on why he was told his son would receive additional math instruction in summer school.

“I’m not sure why, or who. But clearly there was a misunderstanding,” Tinder said, adding that summer math instruction “generally isn’t anything that we have promoted.”

Bogdan commented that since the summer school program is funded by the state, she must follow state guidelines, which do not include math.

“We can teach math in the context of reading, because story problems are obviously significant,” Tinder said. “I don’t know if that’s what the teacher had in mind. We’ve always made it clear that our qualifications for summer school are (for teaching) reading.”

The percentage of new additional instruction time that will be spent on math starting this fall hasn’t been determined yet, Tinder said, “but that’s our top priority.”