In light of the chaos at the state legislative level when it comes to passing budgets and agreeing on how public schools should test and monitor student progress, District 91 is joining districts across Illinois in choosing their own program to assess student growth, which will be administered in the fall of 2017.

At the district’s school board meeting on Feb. 9, Superintendent Lou Cavallo explained how the district’s balanced assessment committee — made up of administrators and faculty — has worked to find an assessment that would best examine the needs of Forest Park student and curriculum, choosing a program through FastBridge Learning.

“For the past year and a half, we’ve had a balanced assessment committee in this district evaluating our current [program], the needs we have and looking at assessments that may better do what we need them to do,” Cavallo said. “Unanimously, the teachers in the district said MAP [Measures of Academic Progress] isn’t working for us, so we’ve looked for other assessments.”

The move to revamp district assessment comes after discussions at the district level and talks with districts around the area that are disheartened by Illinois’ lack of a comprehensive assessment program.

Cavallo explained to the board that at the latest West 40 suburban school district collaborative meeting on Feb. 8 with an Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) test assessment leader, many superintendents left feeling less than confident that Illinois was close to choosing an assessment program aligned with both the SAT (the new standardized exam for high school juniors, replacing the ACT) and Common Core.

“We continue to get different bits and pieces of information about where we are going with our statewide assessment,” he said.

Cavallo believes it will take years before the state can put together an assessment program that would not only follow federal guidelines but also match what state districts are looking to assess. He said there’s a lot of push in Illinois for districts to do their own assessments.

“The point that really bothers me is that it’s hard to have longitudinal data when they keep changing the assessment on us,” he said.

In the meantime, Cavallo said D91 will roll out their FastBridge assessment in the fall after district staff found it will better serve the district’s need to answer three main points.

First, Cavallo said, FastBridge has a good predictability score in providing real time data on how well classroom instruction is helping students. Second, FastBridge would provide benchmark assessments letting the district measure where kids stand right now as opposed to obtaining results months later or after they’ve moved to another grade. Lastly, the district feels FastBridge provides adequate curriculum-based measures for students needing intervention on learning deficiencies.

As opposed to Illinois’ MAP assessment, Cavallo says FastBridge will provide the immediate feedback students and staff need.

“The great thing about this is these assessments are very short,” he said. “They’re computer-based [and] it doesn’t require outside testing where we have to wait for the scores to come back.”

Additionally, Cavallo says FastBridge won’t take up as much valuable classroom instruction time as MAP. If the elementary assessment fiasco weren’t enough, Cavallo told the board, while the state understands they need to ditch the PARCC exams and move to elementary exams more closely aligned with the SAT, the state can’t stop administering PARCC just yet.

“Our state superintendent of education has said one more year of PARCC and then we’re not sure what we’re going to do,” Cavallo said. “Many people took that as we’re not going to be doing PARCC but we may be doing something different.”

Cavallo said ISBE cannot give any timelines or information for sure as to the next standardized test, but for now, he feels sure they will work with districts in attainment of Common Core.

“Students making sufficient or better growth and not doing well on PARCC is disheartening to our staff,” Cavallo added about the unpopular exam.

State budget crisis shorts D91 by $300K

In his outline of the status of district finances, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Edward Brophy explained as of Jan. 31, D91 is waiting on $356,282 from the state in mandated categorical grant payments relating to special education.

The breakdown of total money owed includes:

 $28,568.96 for special education private facility tuition

 $56,430.98 for funding for children requiring special education services

 $96,775.44 for transportation for special education

 $174,507.24 for special education personnel

Despite this loss, Brophy stressed the importance of the district having reserve funds as it has helped keep finances afloat. Additionally, he said that while the district would in the past receive 80 percent of these finances back on a delayed scale, he suggested that this time, they could receive less than 50 percent.

“It is likely these payments will not be disbursed until the state approves a budget,” Brophy said.

Other board meeting minutes to note:

 The board carried a motion to consider adoption of the resolution for the permanent transfer of fund balance from the transportation fund to the operations and maintenance fund in the amount of $1 million. 

 District 91 is exploring changing athletic conferences for the 2017-2018 school year to have Forest Park Middle School athletes travel to schools that are closer and similar in student population. The middle school principal and athletic director are currently exploring new conference options, one being the Salt Creek Valley Conference which includes local schools Komarek in North Riverside and Lindop in Broadview.

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