Last year, for the third year in a row, African American eighth graders at Forest Park Middle School failed to meet the adequate yearly progress goals specified by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. So last week, Middle School principal Karen Bukowski was again required to submit a school improvement plan, which the District 91 school board unanimously approved at their meeting.

But if state officials adopt a proposed change in the passing score of the eighth grade Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) math test the days of FPMS being academic warning may be over.

On February 23rd the State Board of Education will vote on a proposal to change the score on the eighth grade math test required to meet state standards from the current score in the 67th percentile to a score in the 38th percentile. The so-called “cut scores” in other subjects are closer to the 38th percentile, according to state education officials.

District 91 officials reacted cautiously to the possible change.

“Our goal is going to be for all of our kids to meet the standards no matter what the standards are,” said District 91 Superintendent Randy Tinder.

At the school board meeting, Bukowski acknowledged that the middle school must do more to improve in math, especially for African American students.

In last year’s ISAT tests 77.3 percent of African American eighth graders at the middle school scored below the state standards, compared with 37.1 percent of white eighth graders. Just under 30 percent of white eight graders tested in the highest category of scores exceeding the state standards, while only 1.5 percent of black eighth graders did so. District 91’s scores are similar to scores around the state.

Bukowski is determined to do better.

“We are not meeting the needs of our African-American eighth graders in math,” said Bukowski.

Bukowski said Middle School students were having problems with some basic mathematical concepts.

“Fractions and decimals just blow the kids away,” Bukowski told the school board. “For some reason it freaks them out. We’re working a lot more on computation.”

In addition to spending more time on computation, the middle school is working on including math in more than just math class.

“We’re doing a lot more math across the curriculum,” said Bukowski. Students are starting off their science class with a math problem; they are working on measuring in industrial arts and are even doing continent reports that involve math in seventh grade Language Arts.

The District extended the school day by 15 minutes this school year, starting at 8:15 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m., and also eliminated recess, adding approximately 90 minutes a week in instructional time. About half of that time is being used to study math, Bukowski said.

She and Tinder hope the additional time and effort will pay off this March when this year’s ISATs are given.

“We would expect the extra time to make a difference,” said Tinder.

In other action at last week’s meeting:

 Tinder reported that the district’s annual financial score from the state has greatly improved over the last two years. Two years ago the state placed the district on early financial warning when the district had a score of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Last year the district’s score increased to 3.45 and the district was placed on financial review.

This school year, with the revenues from a 2004 tax increase referendum coming in, the district’s score increased to 3.9 and the district has been recognized as having a strong financial condition. “We have the taxpayers of our community to thank for that,” Tinder said.

 Tinder announced that Forest Park Commissioner of Public Property Terry Steinbach donated $3500 to the district to cover the expenses of district students who wish to attend band camp.

Ever since Steinbach was elected to the Village Council, Steinbach has made it a practice to donate to charity the $7000 raise commissioners received in 2002. Steinbach, who graduated from Garfield School and what was then called Field Stevenson Junior High School, played the French horn as a child and has fond memories of attending band camp.

“When I was in middle school, it was called junior high then, both my husband and I were recipients of band scholarships,” Steinbach said.

“This is enough money to cover all the kids who want to go this year and last year,” said Tinder.

Megan Waitkoff of Medill News Service contributed to this report.