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Though standardized tests are only one measure of a school district’s performance, Superintendent Stan Fields said that as long as the state relies on these scores to measure academic standing, those tests will serve as the foundation for Proviso Township High School District 209’s curriculum.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, Fields presented new policies that link everything from classroom tests to graduation requirements back to the state’s tool for measuring student performance, the ACT composite score. Fields’ willingness play into legislated mandates bucks a common criticism of educators who feel they’re being forced to “teach to the test.”

“Educators and administrators that object to teaching to the test are objecting to accountability,” Fields said.

Based on its ACT composite, District 209 ranks dead last in student performance when compared to 90 high school districts in the Chicago area.

Among the changes to the district’s policies on student instruction, several have a direct impact on graduation requirements. Beginning with the 2007-08 freshman class, students will not be allowed to continue to the next grade level without completing course work directly related to the state tests.

“Classification requirements … shall strictly reflect ACT core curriculum to ensure students are adequately prepared for the administration of the state standardized test battery,” according to the policy.

Those subjects include English, math, science and social studies. According to Fields, the new policy will have an immediate impact on students’ test scores, because they won’t be allowed to take the test as juniors until they’ve passed the preparatory classes their freshman and sophomore year.

“We have to have some goals and some standards in mind,” Fields said.

These curriculum changes were rolled out during the board of education’s Feb. 19 meeting. The superintendent spoke at length about the need for change in the district and asked board members to consider his proposal over the course of the next month. At the district’s March board meeting, a vote is expected on the proposal.

Following Monday’s presentation from the superintendent, board members did not discuss the proposal, nor did they ask any questions.

Other changes proposed by the superintendent include changing eligibility standards at Proviso Township high schools to increase student participation in extracurricular activities, including sports. Currently, students must have at least a 2.0 grade point average to participate. Fields is asking the board to adopt the less stringent Illinois High School Association’s policy with the caveat that any student whose GPA falls below 2.0 attend mandatory tutoring.

“We’re delivering a death sentence to 14 and 15 year olds,” Fields said. “They barely get in the door and we lock them out of extracurricular activities.”

Students would also be required to complete 144 hours of community service, extracurricular or co-curricular activities to graduate, should the board adopt Fields’ proposal.

Fields said his focus on boosting the ACT composite score will not force him to turn a blind eye to other facets of building well-rounded high schools. A consulting firm hired to evaluate the district in late 2006 will be assessing progress in 118 different areas. Technivista will be grading the schools on everything from their recycling programs to the number of championship banners hanging from the rafters.

This broad range of criteria falls under a model called the Malcolm Baldrige Categories, which Technivista also used to evaluate the district. According to Fields, this standard will also help “keep the reform efforts apolitical.”