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As state scores in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test flatlined year over year, Forest Park District 91 students moved steadily forward in the annual test, with the district earning the second-highest rating of “commendable.” The Illinois State Board of Education launched the new rating system for schools and districts this year, which aims to measure students’ growth in PARCC. Forest Park’s rating was higher that many other schools in the area. 

“That commendable rating, we’re very proud of it. It’s not just due to the efforts of the schools, it’s also due to the partnership that we have with parents,” Superintendent Louis Cavallo said. “We appreciate their support and their help, and without them we would not have made the designation that we did.” 

Thirty-five percent of D91 students either met or exceeded the Illinois State Board of Education’s standards in English Language Arts (ELA), up from 33 percent last year, nearly meeting the state average of 37 percent. Meanwhile, 18 percent of students either met or exceeded state standards in math—up from 16 percent the school year before, but still behind the state average of 32 percent. The state-mandated PARCC is administered in March at all public elementary and middle schools in Illinois. 

“We’re working with our new curriculum to improve and we are making gains,” Cavallo said. “We want to see more gains, but we believe we’re putting the right things in place and are working hard to do so.”

Over the past few years, D91 struggled to make changes because schools were using the Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which did not provide “data to really hone in on where to make changes,” Cavallo said. The district has since switched to the FastBridge test, which provides instant feedback on concepts students don’t understand and that Cavallo said is better aligned to PARCC questions. It is one of many changes D91 has made recently to increase students’ test scores.

This year, the district implemented monthly early release days, where all staff look at students’ test scores and reflect on what changes can be made to drive learner growth. D91 has also implemented a new schedule at Forest Park Middle School, along with a new curriculum across the board, using materials Cavallo said are more rigorous for teaching ELA and math. Come 2020, D91 believes these changes will increase student PARCC scores in math and ELA by 10 percent.

“Everyone wants a magic wand, a quick fix and they don’t want to wait for things to be done right. I am as anxious as everyone else to see the improvement that we want to accomplish,” Cavallo said.

D91’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders outpaced the state in ELA scores, with greater percentages of students passing the subject. Fourth- and fifth-grade individualized education program (IEP) learners also performed ahead of the state average in ELA.

“Our special education students are outpacing the state average. We provide a continuum of services in D91 that most districts don’t provide and very, very few districts our size provide,” Cavallo said. He said the district works to identify and intervene with students who may have an IEP early. “Those students that have an IEP are given an opportunity to succeed. We have a very inclusive community…  All kids deserve to go to the school in their neighborhood,” he said.  

Free and reduced-price third-, fourth- and fifth-graders likewise performed ahead of the state average in ELA. For the most part, the district as a whole struggled with math, although third-graders outpaced the state in the subject.

Nearly 45 percent of third-graders either met or exceeded the expectation in math, compared to a state average of 37.7 percent. As at all levels of D91, greater numbers of white third-graders passed math and ELA compared to their black and Hispanic counterparts. Forty-seven percent of white students either met or exceeded the state average in math, compared to 36.2 percent of black students who passed the subject. Nearly 65 percent of white students passed ELA, compared to 33.3 percent black and 45.5 percent of Hispanic students who met or exceeded the state’s standard.

“We are well aware and very honest about the achievement gap and we are directly and explicitly addressing that. We are working with the National Equity [Project] and we are looking at systemic reasons to why this occurs,” Cavallo said. The National Equity Project offers leadership training for schools to help improve learning for all students.   

“We are in our first year in a multiyear endeavor. There is no easy, quick answer to that. There are multiple reasons and there are multiple opportunities that we have to address,” Cavallo said.  

D91 fourth-graders also struggled with math, with 15.5 percent passing the subject compared to a state average of 31.5 percent. White students also outpaced their black and Hispanic counterparts in ELA and math subjects—64.3 percent of white students met or exceeded state standards in ELA, compared to 43.7 percent of black and 25 percent of Hispanic students. Nearly 39 percent of white students passed math, compared to 6.3 percent of black and 16.7 percent of Hispanic students who met or exceeded state standards. IEP fourth-graders struggled in math, with 6.7 percent at least meeting the state standard, compared to an average of 10.1 percent. Those fourth graders who qualified for free and reduced-price lunch also struggled in the subject—12.3 percent passed math, compared to a state average of 17.1 percent.

Fifth-graders continued to struggle in math, with 15.4 percent of D91 fifth-graders at least meeting the standard in the subject compared to a state average of 30.8 percent. As in previous grades, students of color struggled compared to their white counterparts—nearly 58 percent of white students passed ELA, while just 31.7 percent of black and 36.4 percent of Hispanic learners met state standards. About 26 percent of white students passed math, compared to 9.8 percent of black and 18.2 percent of Hispanic students. No IEP students passed math. About 9 percent of fifth-graders who qualified for free and reduced-price lunch at least met state standards in math, compared to a state average of 16.5 percent.

Students in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade struggled to meet state standards in PARCC.

“Our middle schoolers are the ones we still have the most concern about, that we’re making the most changes around,” Cavallo said.

D91 sixth-graders nearly met the state average in ELA, with 32.9 percent of D91 students passing the subject compared to a state average of 34.1 percent. Just 6 percent met state standards in math, compared to a state average of about 27 percent. No IEP students passed math or ELA, although 16.7 “approached” the ELA state standard. About 24 percent of the grade’s free and reduced-price lunch students at least met state standards in ELA, compared to a state average of 19.3 percent. Two percent of free/reduced price lunch students passed math, compared to a state average of 13.2 percent.   

“The middle school’s piloting one math program this semester, so we’ll see whether or not it will be rigorous enough or if we need to look at another. We are pushing the rigor,” Cavallo said. 

In seventh-grade, 26.3 percent of students passed ELA, compared to a state average of about 40 percent. Nearly 18 percent of seventh-graders passed math, compared to a state average of 30.7 percent. The Illinois Report Card did not list any IEP or free/reduced price lunch students.

About 24 percent of eighth-graders at least met state standards in ELA, compared to a state average of 36.4 percent of students who passed the subject. About 10 percent of eighth-graders passed math, compared to a state average of 30.5 percent who at least met state standards in the subject. Students of color performed behind their white counterparts.

Half of the grade’s white students passed ELA, while just 30 percent of Hispanic and about 17 percent of black students at least met state standards in the subject. Thirty percent of white students passed math, compared to the 5.1 percent of black and 10 percent of Hispanic students who met or exceeded the subject’s standard. More IEP students passed ELA and math compared to the state average. About 21 percent of those eighth-graders who qualified for free and reduced-price lunch passed ELA, nearly reaching the state average of 22 percent. In math, just 6.4 percent of free and reduced price lunch students at least met the subject’s state standard, compared to a state average of 16.2 percent.

Cavallo pointed to the eighth graders’ algebra performance as a bright spot.

“When we implemented algebra in eighth grade, we initially said we wanted a quarter of kids in there. Well, we have 50 percent now. We actually bumped that up,” he said. D91 implemented algebra this year. 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com