Six months after Forest Park District 91 schools released their fiscal year 2018 strategic plan, the results are in, with Forest Park students exceeding all the social and emotional goals and making strides in math and reading, although they did not reach the plan’s ambitious academic goals.

“I’m encouraged by what I see here,” said Superintendent Louis Cavallo at a Board of Education meeting on June 12. “We’re moving all these kids in the right direction, even though we didn’t meet the goals that we set for ourselves. We still moved more kids in the right direction.”

D91’s fiscal year 2018 strategic plan was unveiled in December 2017, and outlined teaching strategies, test scores and social and emotional goals the district hoped to achieve from fall 2017 to the end of the school year in May 2018.

At the June meeting where results were unveiled, Cavallo said teachers and principals came up with the strategies highlighted in the plan, and that they were “overenthusiastic” in developing academic goals.

He also said that, because this was the first year students took the FastBridge Learning test, teachers and principals did not know how students were going to score and did not have previous data to reference.

D91 implemented FastBridge this year as a way to provide educators immediate results on how students score on particular subjects and identify material they need to work on, all in an effort to increase scores in the state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. Cavallo said he still believes district scores will increase on PARCC.

“We knew that they were pretty ambitious, but they thought they could get there,” Cavallo said of strategic plan’s goals.

According to FastBridge results presented at the board meeting, the percent of second- through eighth-grade students who tested as a low risk and on the path to college in math jumped to 48 percent from 40 percent of students, just missing the 50 percent goal the district aimed to achieve by the end of the year.

The district also aimed to reduce the percentage of second- through eighth-graders who were at a high risk of failing math. Instead, the percent of students identified as a high risk for math increased by two points, to 27 percent. 

“Overall, we got more kids on track to be successful,” Cavallo said at the meeting, adding that he didn’t know why more kids tested as a high risk for math at the end of the year.

Second- through eighth-graders identified as a low risk and on the path to college in reading rose slightly from fall to spring, up to 60 percent of students from 57 percent. The district missed its May 2018 goal of 70 percent of second- through eighth-graders testing as a low risk in reading, however.

Math scores for students in kindergarten through first grade rose from 49 percent to 73 percent, still missing the district’s 85 percent goal. For these younger students, 41 percent tested as a low risk for reading in fall 2017, and 60 percent tested as a low risk in May 2018. D91 still missed its spring goal of having 80 percent of early readers test as a low risk in reading by the end of the school year.

“We set really high goals for ourselves, so I’m not disappointed that we didn’t meet them. I’d rather set high goals that we don’t meet, than to set really low goals that we meet,” Cavallo said, adding that he felt skeptical of the academic goals teachers and principals outlined when they presented them, but that he trusted staff.

“These weren’t goals that I set for teachers and said, ‘Now you have to do this.’ These were goals that teachers set them for themselves,” he said.  

While board member Christina Ricordati said students made amazing strides in some subject areas, she said there were moderate academic goals that were not met. She said that if she were a parent with a student in the district, she would feel concerned.

“One of the things that can happen when you set overly ambitious goals is that then you aren’t held as accountable,” Ricordati said at the meeting. “Because it’s like, ‘Well, that was so ambitious.'”

Cavallo said academic aims will not only be more measurable, but attainable, in next school year’s strategic plan, which he said he plans to have complete by the start of the school year and will set goals from spring 2018 to spring 2019.

He said teachers and principals will have more data to work with when setting goals, and more experience with the FastBridge exams.

He pointed to students’ social and emotional growth in the school as a bright spot — in a survey, the vast majority of students said that classmates help each other, even if they’re not friends; treat others that are different from them with respect; and feel that staff cares about them.     

“I think in so many other buildings people do not believe that these kids have the ability to be successful,” board member Kyra Tyler said at the meeting. “I’m so encouraged that teachers here believe that their kids could be successful like that.”