Board Briefs: Fall 2021 Curriculum Workshop

boe fall 2021 curriculum workshop board briefs

The District 58 Board of Education held a Curriculum Workshop on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021 at O’Neill Middle School and via YouTube livestream.

Key Meeting Links:

District Committee Work

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Justin Sisul was joined by several teachers and administrators to share progress updates on District 58’s curriculum committees, including the:

  • Writing Subcommittee 
  • Grade 6-8 Social Studies Committee
  • Grade K-5 Social Studies Committee 
  • Science/STEM Committee 
  • SEL Curricular Audit Committee
  • Math Committee
  • Dual Language Committee
  • Gifted Committee
  • Differentiation & Assessment Committee
  • Innovative Learning & Technology Committee

School Improvement Planning Process

District 58 implemented a robust and comprehensive school improvement planning process called Cycles of Inquiry at each of its schools this year. 

“At the building level, this is the process we use to identify areas for growth, celebrate successes, and come up with specific, strategic ways to address those areas for growth during the course of a given year,” Sisul said.

Building leadership completed extensive Cycles of Inquiry training and adopted three school improvement planning goals for the 2021-22 school year related to math curricular resource implementation, the District’s staff positive psychology work, and one unique school-specific goal created through each school’s Instructional Leadership Team. For this inaugural year, schools will focus on implementing the Cycles of Inquiry process, along with the strategies and structures each building identified, with fidelity. In future years, the focus will shift to both implementation and data-driven outcomes.

Instructional Coaching

Assistant Superintendent for Technology and Learning Dr. James Eichmiller shared that District 58 has used instructional coaches to provide teachers with instructional feedback, curriculum implementation assistance, and other professional development for the past nine years. This year, the instructional coaching team implemented coaching cycles, a research-based process that uses data and goals to further enhance instructional coaching services. 

For example, second-year Herrick Math Teacher Molly McDanel shared how she worked side by side with Instructional Coach Jenny Lehotsky to collect classroom data, create clear and specific instructional goals, and develop a teaching strategy toolbox. McDanel implemented a new instructional strategy each week. Lehotsky observed each strategy implementation and held weekly reflection meetings with McDanel. They also surveyed students and received positive feedback, and McDanel shared the strongest strategies with the Herrick Math Department, fostering a ripple effect as other teachers tried new ideas with their students.

“Our instructional coaches supported many teachers over the years, particularly throughout the many curricular adoptions we’ve had in recent years,” Dr. Eichmiller reflected. “It’s a very powerful and amazing program.” 

Key Performance Indicators

District 58 developed key performance indicators, or KPIs, to measure its student academic progress in its 2018 Strategic Plan. These KPIs expired this year, and some of the primary data points -- chiefly 2020 and 2021 Illinois Assessment of Readiness data -- are unavailable due to the pandemic. The Board of Education, District Leadership Team, Curriculum Council and Curriculum Department have been discussing the need to establish new KPIs to measure ongoing performance.

Sisul said that District 58 held initial KPI conversations with John Gatta from ECRA, the education strategic planning firm that helped District 58 develop its 2018 Strategic Plan. They discussed the need to concurrently develop new KPIs with the District’s Portrait of a Graduate descriptors. Sisul shared a timeline for forming new KPIs that aims to formally implement them next spring.

Deeper Look at Fall 2021 Assessment Data

The Board of Education’s regular October 2021 business meeting featured an overview of fall 2021 assessment data, which found that districtwide, the number of first graders demonstrating below-average achievement on the aimsweb reading assessment was higher than in a typical year. The Board requested additional context, which Mr. Sisul provided here.

2018-19 is the most recent full school year unaffected by the pandemic. In fall 2018, the aimsweb assessment identified 32% of first graders at high risk for not meeting their grade level reading goals for the year. District 58 used this data, along with teacher observations, to supplement core reading instruction with a variety of supports and interventions -- such as differentiated reading groups, pull-out services, and formal and informal student assessment --  to help these students get back on track. When assessed again in spring 2019, only 8% of students remained at high risk, indicating that those supports and interventions helped.

In fall 2021, aimsweb identified 42% of first graders at high risk, which is an increase from the fall 2018 data and is somewhat discrepant from other fall 2021 grade level data. District 58 realizes that many pandemic-related factors contribute to this discrepancy, ranging from the decreased amount of instruction last year to the new routines and stamina required of first graders experiencing a full day of elementary instruction for the first time. As such, District 58 schools will continue to offer its usual student supports and interventions, but has also proactively added new elements to primary grade level core reading instruction, such as foundational skills groups, additional reading curricular resources, and an increased focus on phonemic awareness instruction.

District 58 will continue to analyze formal and informal data to assess progress and determine if current interventions are closing learning gaps. If the District determines that gaps are not closing or not closing quickly enough, additional supports, such as increased summer school offerings or new programs, will be considered. Regular data presentations and updates will be provided to the Board in February, June and October.

Noting that student assessment data is based on pre-pandemic norms, some School Board members asked if District 58 could compare its current aimsweb data to that of surrounding districts. Sisul and Superintendent Dr. Kevin Russell remarked that this may be challenging, as many surrounding districts do not make their school assessment data publicly available.

Related to data, the Illinois State Board of Education will release its annual Illinois Report Card on Friday, Oct. 29. This year’s report card for District 58 will include enrollment, demographic, attendance and financial data. No assessment information will be in it. Due to the pandemic, the State gave school districts the option to defer its 2020-21 state testing from spring 2021 to fall 2021. District 58 chose this option, and fall 2021 IAR, DLM and ISA assessment data will be available on April 27, 2022.

GreatSchools Equity Ratings and District 58’s Equity Audit

The Board and community occasionally ask questions regarding how the nationwide school rating website GreatSchools assigns schools a rating. These ratings frequently show up on real estate websites that prospective residents use to decide where to move. In particular, the Board of Education was interested in learning how GreatSchools rates schools on equity.

Sisul explained that GreatSchools assigns a school a rating based on two categories: academics and equity. Current elementary school district ratings are based exclusively on Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) achievement data from spring 2019 and growth data from spring 2018-19. The equity rating is calculated by breaking out all demographic groups and calculating how each group tests in comparison to the rest of the school. District 58’s schools are small, and many demographic groups are very small. This means that if one or two students from a smaller demographic group score poorly on the IAR, it will bring down the school’s equity rating, which, in turn, brings down the school’s entire rating. As a concrete example, Sisul shared that 15 Hispanic students at Fairmount School took the ELA portion of the IAR. Collectively, these 15 students scored higher on ELA than the average Fairmount student. This prompted Fairmount to receive a strong equity score. However, if just a couple of these 15 students scored poorly, it would have brought their demographic group’s average score below the school average, thereby decreasing the school’s equity score. 

“When we start to ask the ‘why’ behind this (rating), it really does scale down to the performance of a very small group of students on an individual assessment on a given day,” Sisul said.

Beyond the equity rating, Sisul shared that historically, District 58 did not emphasize state assessments, preferring to focus on the MAP and other district-selected tests. This approach downplayed the test’s importance; many students opted out or didn’t take it as seriously as they would another assessment, like the MAP. In 2018, District 58 began shifting its attitude toward state assessments to actively encourage all students to participate and give it their best effort. Teachers also spent some time familiarizing students with the assessment’s structure. 

Since this renewed focus, the District’s IAR results have steadily been improving. GreatSchools does not regularly update its data and ratings. It most recently updated its ratings in December 2020 to use the 2018-19 IAR data. Prior to December 2020, it had been several years since GreatSchools had been updated, and District 58’s ratings at that time reflected data from years when District 58 did not focus on this test, causing District 58 schools to receive lower ratings.

Sisul shared that while District 58 doesn’t place much value on GreatSchools ratings, District 58 does focus on addressing achievement and growth gaps for all students to ensure an equitable learning experience. District 58 does this by using student assessment and informal data to equitably identify individualized interventions. 

As shared previously, District 58 will conduct an equity audit this school year to ensure students have equitable access to all educational opportunities. District 58 formed a staff District Equity Leadership Team last month to begin planning the process. In November and December, District 58 will offer surveys and hold 30 in-person and virtual focus groups on equity in District 58. More information will be shared with the District 58 community in early November.

Extended Public Comment

The Board offered a 30-minute extended reception of visitors, during which time the community and Board could engage in two-way dialogue. The Board received comments from two parents regarding first grade class size, equity among students enrolling in advanced math, math and science state assessment scores, and the length of the instructional day. The Board and/or a designated administrator responded to these comments.

Upcoming Events

  • Friday, Nov. 5 at 7 a.m.: Financial Advisory Committee Meeting at the Longfellow Center
  • Monday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.: Regular Board Meeting at Downers Grove Village Hall

District 58 Board of Education members are: Darren Hughes, president; Gregory Harris, vice president; Kirat Doshi, Melissa Ellis, Emily Hanus, Steven Olczyk and Tracy Weiner, with Dr. Kevin Russell, superintendent; and Melissa Jerves, board secretary.