An emphasis on literacy and reading comprehension will drive classroom instruction in District 91 once Lou Cavallo assumes the superintendent’s office this summer, according to recent talks between new board members and Cavallo.

During a discussion intended to acclimate newly elected school board members with the newly hired administrator, officials hit upon a range of topics including student discipline, preschool programming and professional development. Most specifically though, plans to make the most of the time students spend reading were outlined and will be revisited in a formal presentation to the full board this month.

The shift in teaching strategies won’t necessarily devote more classroom time to reading instruction, Cavallo said, but is expected to boost scores, particularly on standardized tests used by state and federal governments to measure student progress.

“The additional (instruction) time comes when we target specific blocks or specific students,” Cavallo said.

By and large, Forest Park’s K-8 students are reading at a level comparable to their counterparts across the state, according to standardized test scores dating back to 2002. However, results from last year’s Illinois Standards Achievement Tests demonstrate a much wider disparity between District 91 students and those in other public schools when directly measuring reading comprehension.

In all subject areas, 69.5 percent of Forest Park students met grade-level expectations in 2006. Some 77 percent of students statewide met performance standards.

“(Reading) also impacts other scores,” Cavallo said. “If you’re going to start somewhere, that’s the place to start.”

Teachers in Forest Park’s four elementary schools and the middle school already spend far more time on reading instruction than any other subject, as do teachers across the state, according to data released annually by the Illinois State Board of Education. Between 2002 and 2006, third-grade teachers in District 91 spent an average of 157 minutes per day on English and language arts, which is slightly more than the average for third-grade teachers across the state.

In both grades six and eight, teachers here spent an average of 84 minutes on reading instruction. Statewide, sixth-graders worked on their reading skills for 105 minutes per day between 2002 and 2006, while eighth-graders did so for 93 minutes.

By comparison, District 91 students spent anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes per day on math, science and social studies.

To gauge the effectiveness of any curriculum changes, new in-house measurements will be developed to provide a snapshot of student learning every few weeks. Staff development and ongoing training is expected to begin this summer, Cavallo said.