By Nona Tepper
Forest Park District 91 staff will focus primarily on math for the rest of the year, postponing some of the work they intended for English Language Arts as they realized more needed to be done mapping the district's math curriculum, honing teachers' instruction, engaging students' needs and much more.
But at the board of education meeting on Jan. 10, board members wondered where parents fit into this strategy, noting that district officials didn't mention families once during a presentation about how they're working to drive math comprehension.
"We have a crisis in our community about math," Kyra Tyler a board member said at the meeting. "I love that we're doing kindness week, I think it's great, but we should be doing math week, math month, math Sunday, math Super Bowl, math musical, math everything. I am hot about the fact that parents were not mentioned. It doesn't make sense to me It's a huge missing link. We're not asking enough of them and I find it to be insulting."
Tyler said she was "devastated" that the district hadn't factored parents into its plan to drive math scores. She said the district should communicate more with parents so they can understand the steps D91 is taking to increase comprehension, as well as provide support so parents can help students outside the classroom. She estimated 70 percent of parents can't do D91's math homework.
"I have seen parents at the library paying people to tutor their children. How they spend their money is their own business, that's fine, but if there's a way to keep that within our district and help them understand, I think there's a lot of room to grow there," Tyler said at the meeting. "I think about the investment of math coaches -- which is necessary and which we should be doing -- but I don't think that people know that there are math coaches. That's how laser focused we are. We're being so insular about it and I don't think it's translating."
Superintendent Louis Cavallo noted some teachers do provide materials for parents —citing one teacher who creates videos for parents as an example. But he admitted these resources are not "universal" and that parents have asked him over the last year for help understanding their children's homework. He agreed that the district needed to do more to engage families. When Cavallo learned math as a student, he said he was expected to simply memorize equations to meet the standards. Now students are expected to explain their method for solving problems, Cavallo said, which is "much more rigorous than what you and I did and what our parents did in school.
"We have a lot of parents that are working, single, and we're not faulting people, but they're not able to do this. They're not available to do it. We can't rely on that as the sole thing, but we have to do everything we can," Cavallo said at the meeting.
He added: "The bottom line is, if you look at this, it's not a one thing fix, it's not a magic bullet, we can't just buy a new textbook and all of our problems will be done. It's instruction, it is the curriculum, we've gotta make sure we're teaching every standard and that it is sequential and we have no gaps. It is assessing along the way so we can make real-time adjustments and intervene right away. All of these things are things we're working on, they're all essential."
At the meeting, James Edler, director of innovative instruction, noted that Big Ideas Math — a math curriculum Forest Park Middle School (FPMS) is piloting this school year — offers families one-on-one tutoring through students' Chromebook at all hours. He has visited Northbrook/Glenview School District 30 to see how teachers there teach math through Big Ideas, as well as Berwyn North School District 98 to see how they use the textbook. In Berwyn, he said teachers hold a mindset that their work is public.
"You walk into some of the classrooms there and the teacher would seemingly not even know that people had walked into the room," Edler said at the meeting. "That's clearly something that is very much a part of the culture and that has been something the principal has been really clear about, that teaching is public and we need to be open to hearing those ideas, which is really essential when it comes to adult learning."
In January, teachers from Grant-White Intermediate Elementary School and Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School visited one another's classrooms, reflecting together on each other's teaching styles. During the district's early release days in February, teachers will focus together on their assessment practices, learning best practices for analyzing student scores to react in the moment to their needs. They will also develop semester-long student learning objectives (SLO).
"They would set a goal that's really grounded in the standards and set a goal for what students will be able to do over the course of that semester and where they would expect them to be at the end of that semester," Edler said at the meeting. "Then using that information and evidence to reflect on, 'what's the impact I'm having? What are some ways I might innovate on that instruction to have a greater impact? Are these SLOs in alignment with school goals as well as district goals?'"
Part of aligning the classroom and district goals includes mapping the curriculum along grade levels, Edler said, to make sure that there are no gaps. He noted that Big Ideas also provides teachers differentiated materials, so they can teach to learners at all levels.
"As we are focusing on improving outcomes for students in mathematics, we recognize the necessity and the expectation that we align our efforts in math to the equity imperative that you adopted last month," Edler told board members at the meeting. "While we've begun that journey with the board and the district administration, this initiative is going to be embedded and connected in every area. You adopted that equity imperative, now it's our responsibility to carry that work forward."