Forest Park District 91 Administrative Building (File Photo)

At their meeting on Aug. 9, the Forest Park School District 91 Board of Education unanimously approved the district’s strategic plan for the 2018-19 school year, which outlines teaching strategies, test scores and social-emotional goals the district aims to achieve by May 2019 and beyond. 

“A lot of it this year is continuing what we started last year, so we can really see it through,” Superintendent Louis Cavallo said at the board meeting. “The goals that we set this time are a bit of a stretch. We didn’t want to just [increase] 1 percentage point; we wanted to make it significant. We didn’t make it too easy, but we did indeed make it goals that we believe we can accomplish.”

In the plan, D91 teachers, administrators and staff outlined short-term and long-term academic goals around state and school tests in math and English language arts (ELA). For the state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam, D91 aims to increase student scores in the ELA and math sections by 10 percent by 2020, so the district meets and, in some cases, exceeds the state average.

In 2017, 33 percent of D91 students met or exceeded state standards in ELA in PARCC, compared to a state average of 37 percent. Sixteen percent of D91 learners met or exceeded math standards in PARCC, compared to a state average of 32 percent.

As a way to increase PARCC scores, D91 implemented the FastBridge Learning test last year, which provides educators immediate results on how students score on particular subjects and identifies material they need to work on.  

By May 2019, D91 aims to have 60 percent of second- through eighth-grade students score as a “low risk” in math in FastBridge, up from 48 percent the school year before, according to the new strategic plan. The district also aims to cut those who score as a “high risk” in math to 15 percent, from 27 percent in May 2018.

For kindergarteners and first-graders, D91 aims to increase the number of low-risk math learners to 80 percent, from 73 percent in May 2018.

In an effort to drive up scores, the math curriculum committee will meet regularly throughout the year to monitor the implementation of the new math curriculum. James Edler, D91’s new director of innovative instruction, will guide peer review and coaching cycles for teachers, and math teachers at Forest Park Middle School will continue holding “external peer observations” of model classrooms to learn best teaching practices.

This school year, middle school students will also begin a new curriculum and schedule. Highlights include longer lesson blocks for math and other core subjects and Spanish-language class five days a week for all seventh-and eighth-grade students. In addition, 25 percent of eighth-graders will be admitted into Algebra I, an advanced math class. D91 eventually aims to enroll all eighth-graders in Algebra I.

“We wouldn’t expect great gains for the first year while they’re starting to use the curriculum, but we still want to see some gains with those shorter-term goals,” Cavallo said at the meeting. “But many of our goals are longer-term. We want to make sure our eye’s on the ball, that we’re focusing, and all this work that we’re doing is going to yield what we want in year two, year three.”

When it comes to reading, D91 aims to have 70 percent of second- through eighth-graders score as a low risk in reading in FastBridge, up from 60 percent the year before, according to the new strategic plan. For kindergarteners and first graders, D91 also aims to increase the number of low-risk readers to 70 percent, from 60 percent the year before.

As a way to increase reading scores, Edler, a team of reading specialists and staff at each grade level, will determine how well D91’s curriculum is aligned with Common Core ELA standards by May 2019.

Staff will also survey all resources used to teach reading and math and identify their “appropriateness for continued use.” Resources for parents to help their children will also be added to the D91 website.

“You can’t implement a new curriculum without having the resources to do so, and the professional development, and the time to make sure the teachers have the ability to implement those strategies as well,” Cavallo said at the meeting.

During the first semester of the school year, reading specialists will receive professional development to make sure they’re fluent in best practices for teaching the subject.

They will then go on to teach classroom teachers best practices. The administrative team also will work to define the roles and responsibilities of instructional assistants throughout the year.

This school year, the school board and administration will continue to work with the National Equity Project, an education reform organization that surveys staff teaching practices, school curriculum and materials to identify and correct biases. D91 hopes that work with the Oakland, Calif.-based organization will help drive racial and socioeconomic equity in PARCC assessments. 

In the strategic plan, D91 also aims to increase the number of students who believe that classmates help each other, even if they’re not friends; treat others who are different from them with respect; and feel that staff cares about them.

The vast majority of students already agreed to these social and emotional goals outlined, according to data from last year’s strategic plan.

An evaluation of last year’s plan also found that while students made strides in math and reading, they failed to reach the plan’s ambitious academic goals.

At the school board meeting where 2017-2018 results were unveiled, Cavallo blamed “overenthusiastic” staff for developing the aspirational goals. He also said that because it was the first year students took the FastBridge test, teachers and principals did not know how students were going to score and did not have previous data to reference.

“This year we’re a lot more confident that we’ll be able to meet these goals,” he said at the meeting.