By Maria Maxham
During a Nov. 14 District 91 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Louis Cavallo addressed the recently released Illinois School Report Cards from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
"Last year," said Cavallo, "we had five schools designated as commendable. This year, we have two designated as commendable, two designated as underperforming and one with no designation." The latter, he said, was due to a too-small third-grade population at Garfield, so those students' scores were included in Grant-White's scores.
Cavallo explained that the "underperforming" designation is given to a school in which any single subgroup is underperforming. At Field Stevenson, for instance, this group is CWD, or children with disabilities. At the middle school, two groups are underperforming: CWD and Hispanic children.
"We have a higher population of IEP kids relative to other schools," said Cavallo. "That's not a bad thing, but it can be reflected in the scores."
"CWD is a phenomenon that is very difficult to understand," added Cavallo. "In our district right now, we have 667 students in grades K through eight, 250 of those with an IEP. Fifty are speech only. Two hundred have a learning disability or emotional disability. This is well beyond the average normally seen in the populations of public schools. Normally, the IEP population is about 14 percent. For us, it's 30 percent.
"My first thought was that we're overidentifying. But most of these children came to us with an IEP. We didn't identify them at all. We have a large increase in students with autism. There isn't a real clear explanation as to why we have an above-average population of students with disabilities."
In comparison to D91's percentage of students with IEPs (23 percent in the 2018-19 school year according to the ISBE and 30 percent this year according to Cavallo), Berwyn North D98 has 19 percent, Berwyn South D100 has 16 percent, Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview D89 has 12 percent and Oak Park D97 has 15 percent.
"It sounds like I'm making excuses," said Cavallo. "And the truth is we're not where we should be. We have work to do." But, he said, the scores from the state are misleading and don't tell a complete story.
He added that when D91 looked at the students who were underperforming according to the state tests, in some cases what they found was surprising. "Some of those kids were getting A's and B's on their report cards. So they're meeting our expectations; but perhaps our expectations aren't high enough."
Cavallo said the district is performing well in science. "When it comes to science proficiency, we're at the state average," he said. "Very few districts are making that. Our math continues to be the area where we struggle the most."
And equity in scores is still a concern. "Our white students are performing well beyond all other subgroups. We need to continue work on equity," said Cavallo.
If there's a silver lining to a lower ranking, it's that schools designated as "underperforming" by the state are eligible for additional funding for improvements, which is what Cavallo plans to request.
He also addressed school enrollment, which has dropped in the last two years. It reflects, he said, an overall trend in lower birth rates in Cook County, noting that Chicago Public Schools have seen declining enrollment as well, losing 10,000 students last year and 7,000 this year.
"These trends can have a large impact on a small community like us," said Cavallo, who talked about enrollment studies the district has conducted.
"The enrollment, at best, will level out about where we are right now for a while. At the worst we're going to drop down to about 500 kids over the next several years. That's very low," said Cavallo. Last school year, district-wide enrollment was 775.
"There will have to be some decisions made once we see where this is going to go over time about what we do district-wide. We're not doing that tonight. This is simply providing the data to the board, so we have some real data to look at," Cavallo said.
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