While most people probably do not consider winter as a prime season for growth, faculty and staff members in Forest Park’s District 91 elementary schools would be likely to proudly proclaim otherwise. 

At the district’s regular Board of Education meeting on Feb. 12, the principals from the four elementary schools and middle school in Forest Park presented data and insight to the board regarding mid-year Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP growth. 

MAP assessments are provided annually to the board regarding math and reading growth for grades one through eight in order for the district to gauge teaching and testing methods and implement strategies for improvement during the spring semester if need be. Each summer, the board and school principals create academic growth targets and allow teachers to customize instructional methods to the needs of the students in order to meet and exceed the created targets. 

The upshot of the report Thursday was that the district as a whole exceeded goals for winter academic growth in the areas of math and reading. 

The growth reflected percentages of students meeting or exceeding winter learning targets. The board emphasized this is different than meeting broader proficiency targets in specific subjects.

At Betsy Ross Elementary, 62 percent of students met or exceeded individualized growth targets in reading and 78 percent met or exceeded their math targets. At Garfield Elementary,  84 percent reached growth targets in reading and 77 percent in math. Field Stevenson Elementary reported 81 percent reached growth targets in reading and 70 percent in math. Grant White Elementary had 84 percent reach growth targets in reading and 78 percent reach the individual math target. Forest Park Middle School had 71 percent reach the reading growth target and 79 percent hit the math target. 

With growth targets on the upturn, District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo says that the board’s projections for spring goals will most likely be exceeded, as curriculum growth targets are not cumulative, but rather seasonal.

“[While] we met those goals right now, what we projected for the spring could very much change,” Cavallo said. “Teachers [may] try new strategies with coaches and methods with the West Cook Mathematics Initiative.” 

 The West Cook Mathematics Initiative is one resource the district strongly utilizes in order to increase math scores across the village. The WCMI is a math improvement program that reaches 11 school districts, such as schools in Proviso Township like Forest Park’s, and is a collaboration between the University of Illinois at Chicago and the West 40 suburban elementary school network. The initiative works to improve overall student success rates in math through more effective teaching tailored to district-specific needs. 

Other methods the principals have utilized to improve reading and math scores have included additional classroom subject coaches and students participating in smaller group activities. 

“Our math coach has had a huge impact on our building and I want to thank you [the board] for that,” said William Milnamow, Betsy Ross principal. 

Forest Park Middle School principal Karen Bukowski acknowledged that students in smaller groups of 3-4 with different learning styles is what has really seemed to make a big difference in successful math and reading growth in her school.

“It really comes down to the personalization [of the students],” Bukowski said. “As the classes develop their own culture and become more comfortable with one another it becomes a lot more of a partnership, [and] a lot of that is put together in the planning by the teachers based on [student] personalities.”

 Cavallo said that while the district will continue to work towards improving reading and math goals this spring, the board and administrators will have to work together to ensure that standardized tests, including the new state-wide Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC exam, is still a focus of preparation.

“The board will need to come up with an assessment plan to not give up too much instructional time,” he said.

Overall, the board was pleased with the positive results. Board member Sean Blaylock reminded the board that while the numbers on growth are important, the conversation must always remain on the children as individuals and a clear focus toward the intent of improving the neighborhood schools.

“I want to thank the principals, the staff and the superintendent,” Blaylock said. “The tone of the conversation is encouraging and the content is informative for the board. This is a connection point [bringing] extra value to the board.”