Cavallo speaks on test scores, enrollment

Says sub-groups responsible for 'underperforming' designation

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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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Reader Comments

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Leah Ann Shapiro from Forest Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2019 3:02 PM

I am writing as a teacher, child development specialist, parent, and researcher. Last week I attended a meeting in Springfield with Mental Health Consultants and Early Childhood practitioners. As educators, much research as been conducted in the last ten years in regard to the use of Ipads, computers, TV and electronics by very young children. For years the reality and research indicate that children who are read to consistently have strong vocabularies and are prepared to read by 1st to 2nd grade. We have pushed 1st grade into Ktg and the teachers are under pressure to perform to the test. Our children lack focus and comprehension when they are addicted at a very early age to this visual stimuli. Parents please stop this. Read books and let children play. Bring books and have conversations at restaurants. Please put down the phones and interact. This applies to all parents and all economic groups. I would like to hear from the teachers at Dct. 91.

Pam Fontana  

Posted: November 26th, 2019 7:31 PM

Cavello has been wasting our money for years now. Why do we need so many administrators? For,such a small village we waste a lot of money on too many chiefs!

Martin Tellalian from FOREST PARK  

Posted: November 26th, 2019 5:20 PM

I attended the District 91 School Board meeting on November 14th to hear what our School Board and Superintendent Cavallo had to say about the recent test scores and the "underperforming" designation given to two of our schools. After very uplifting appeals by some of our students to ban plastic straws, only a few people remained to hear what Dr. Cavallo had to say. After listening to more excuses from Cavallo and seeing the Board's reaction, I now believe that the root of the problem is not the incompetence of Dr. Cavallo and the administration. Don't get me wrong, I am not giving a pass to our superintendent who costs us $250,000 a year and has failed to improve academic performance. After 10 years as superintendent with the funding that he was given, if Dr. Cavallo had been successful, he would be writing articles and making presentations on how to use increased spending to lift academic performance. Instead, Dr. Cavallo continues to make excuses for low test scores and underperformance to the Board and a handful of residents. But he is not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the complacency of the School Board and, by extension, the complacency of us, the residents. Our School Board and the residents should be outraged by the fact that our total annual spending of $23,800 per student has not resulted in a significant academic improvement of our students. Although class sizes are small by state standards, we must have more teachers working directly with our students. Fortunately, getting rid of Dr. Cavallo and half of his bloated administration will give us more resources to work directly with our students without increasing spending. But until the School Board and residents demand results, nothing is going to change.

Greg Mitchell  

Posted: November 26th, 2019 7:42 AM

So Sean, what are your suggestions? As a former school board member, I can tell you that to ignore the fact that "type" and "mix" as you say, play a role in test scores, is simply sticking your head in the sand. More money you say? FP District 91 is already in the top 5% of dollars spent per student in the state. More teachers, you say? FP District 91 is already has among the smallest class size in the state. I believe there is a solution that involves deploying our significant tax revenues in a manner that can truly help our children. Our current situation can be summed up by saying " if you do what you've done, you get what you've got"

Sean Blaylock from Forest Park  

Posted: November 24th, 2019 12:22 AM

As long as D91 (and other similar districts) continues the attempt to "explain away" the results of testing based on the "type" or "mix" of students, the longer it will take for real progress , change, and momentum to take root in this area.

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