Forest Park District 91 did not meet any of the academic or social-emotional goals outlined in its strategic plan last year, with administrators noting that the goals might have been ambitious and that their data collection was not perfect.
“As a board, we find these results to be disheartening. I’m sure on the part of the administrators you also find it to be frustrating,” President Kyra Tyler said at the school board’s June 13 meeting. “We know that our students have immense potential — we know that we have a gifted staff, we invest in them, we invest in Macbooks — so I’m really very curious to see what’s coming up, because I think our students are capable of so much more.”
Next year’s strategic plan will address academic achievement, social-emotional support and data collection gaps, administrators said, and they will present the plan to the public at the July 11 board of education meeting.
The strategic plan outlines teaching strategies, test scores and social-emotional goals the district aims to achieve. 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).
As a way to increase state test scores, D91 implemented the FastBridge Learning test two years ago, which provides educators immediate results on how students score on particular subjects and identifies materials they need to work on.
At the June 13 meeting, administrators revealed that, in May, 47 percent of second- through eighth-grade students reported scoring as “low risk/college pathway” in math on the FastBridge test, down from 48 percent during the same time last year. D91 aimed for 60 percent of students to score as a low risk in math by May 2019.
The district also hoped to reduce the number of students categorized as a “high risk” in math to 15 percent by the end of this school year. Instead, the percent of high-risk second- through eighth-graders increased to 27 percent, from 25 percent in May 2018.
While the percentage of second- through eighth-graders who were deemed a low-risk in reading increased to 65 percent in May 2019 — up from 60 percent the spring before –D91 did not meet its goal of having 70 percent of students score as a low risk in reading. By mid-year, the district decided to put its focus on English language arts on hold to focus more on math.
“We didn’t just abandon English language arts, we just did not focus on it this year because our math scores are so low on [the state test],” Superintendent Louis Cavallo said at the meeting. “We wanted to really focus on math and get some things in place.”
By May, the district also had aimed to increase the percentage of kindergarten through first-grade students deemed a low risk in math from 73 percent to 80 percent. Instead the percent of students deemed a low risk in math decreased to 61 percent.
The number of low-risk readers also decreased year over year. In May, 58 percent of kindergarten through first-grade readers were deemed low risk in reading, down from 60 percent the year before. D91 aimed to get 70 percent of its young students to score as a low risk in reading.
As for the social-emotional goals outlined, fewer students reported feeling 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.
Cavallo partially attributed D91’s decrease in social-emotional scores to eighth-graders not taking the survey this school year.
“We gave the survey so late, we gave it at the last week of school, probably not the best time to do a survey,” Cavallo said. “And there is a thing called survey fatigue. This would have been the fourth time that they had taken this same survey, so we’re not going to give the same survey again, because I think we’ve probably reached the limit of the number of times we can give the same survey and not get diminished results.”
Board member Eric Connor noted that the district had lost 15 percent of its student population this year and wondered if the decreased number of students skewed the academic results.
“What I’m looking at is these data, every single one of them, shows a decrease in our performance among students. So the question is, ‘Why is that happening?’ Is it happening because we’re not meeting our education standards or is it happening because we are losing students?” Connor asked at the board meeting.
Cavallo said it was not the loss of students that impacted D91’s scores, because the declining scores are at “every grade level at every school, [and] we have not lost the same number of students at every grade level at every school.”
“What having decreased numbers does impact is percentages. You have fewer numbers, so it only takes a few to sway it one way or another,” Cavallo said.
He added: “But the purpose of this assessment is just one thing: To guide instruction. It’s for teachers to use to guide instruction. This was never meant to be an accountability measure. We use it to set goals and we report it as if it were an accountability measure, but that’s not really what it is.”
Next school year, the district will compare students’ scores from the fall to the spring, so as to more accurately report growth. He called comparing different cohorts of students — like sixth-graders from May 2018 to sixth-graders in May 2019, for example — “a little bit problematic.”
“I think the biggest thing was realizing that you can’t just compare one set of kids to a different set of kids,” said board member Mary Win Connor, who is on the strategic planning committee.
Cavallo also noted that D91’s work analyzing its curriculum, instruction and resources — like piloting a new math program at Forest Park Middle School — this past school year will have an impact in the coming years. He noted that D91 also hired instructional coaches at every grade level this past school year, as well as increased the instruction time with a new schedule at FPMS.
“There is a thing called implementation lag where it dips before you’ll start having the effect that you want,” he said.
He also noted that, next year, all teachers will receive training from the National Equity Project, an Oakland, California-based leadership organization that will help staff close the academic achievement gap between majority and minority students. Cavallo also said teachers will continue to receive training in formative assessment, or how to use FastBridge data to immediately address students learning needs, and that D91 also hopes to identify a new social-emotional learning program for the next school year.
“We didn’t meet our goals,” Cavallo said. “That’s OK, as long as we are striving for continuous improvement, and we probably put a little too much in this plan.
“The goals that we set were pretty ambitious for everything; we really stretch above. We were high in some places, even last year, just to make sure that we were having continuous improvement.”