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updated: 10/29/2012 12:23 PM

Report shows how District 15 is meeting its instructional challenges

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Tim Waldorf

Community Consolidated School District 15 recently released its 2011-12 Annual Student Achievement Report. The District releases this report every fall, but this is the first edition tied to the Student Performance Targets adopted by the Board of Education last spring.

These rigorous new targets were developed to support the Strategic Goal Map approved by the Board last fall, and it is anticipated that the District will begin meeting and exceeding them in about a five- to six-year period. The targets represent districtwide progress, are inclusive of all grade levels, and are divided into three categories--proficiency targets, growth targets, and outcome targets.

The proficiency targets call for at least 90 percent of students at every grade level tested to meet or exceed grade-level reading and math standards by 2017. According to Illinois Standards Achievement Test data outlined in the report, this target was met last year in math by every grade level tested--Grades 3-8. In reading, though, it was only met at the eighth-grade level.

In a way, those reading scores neatly sum up two trends currently occurring in District 15.

TREND #1: The substantial shifts the District has experienced in its demographic profile are presenting significant instructional challenges that can take time for students and teachers to overcome.

TREND #2: In due time, those challenges are being overcome. Data within the report indicate that--no matter their background--students' academic performances improve the longer they are part of District 15.

Since 2004, the percentage of District 15 students from low-income families has increased from 20.4 percent to 34.9 percent. In that same time, the percentage of students with limited proficiency in English has increased from 15.9 percent to 20 percent, and the percentage of minority students has increased from 35.4 percent to 53.7 percent.

Research has shown that students from these demographic subgroups, as well as special education students, often have increased risk factors that have been shown to have an influential impact on student achievement. That is why one of the growth expectations called for in the new Student Performance Targets calls for the District to close the achievement gap for these subgroups.

To close this gap, schools across the District hold "data digs" in which grade-level teams meet with their principals and District administrators and review on a student-by-student basis who's making progress, who's not, and why. They look at individual students to determine what kind of instruction and which kinds of interventions best suit their particular needs, and they work together to develop plans to accelerate each student's academic growth.

That growth is perhaps best seen in the District's Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test data, which indicate the District's growth mean is higher than the normal growth mean at every grade level in both reading and math. This data correlates with a 2011 study of a stratified and statistically representative sample of District 15 students in Grades 3-8, which showed that all District 15 students--regardless of their subgroup--are making at least a year's progress--and, in many cases, significantly more than a year's progress--in a year's time.

Over the course of their time spent in District 15 schools, this sort of year-by-year progress serves to prepare more and more students for success at the high school level and beyond as indicated by eighth graders' Explore scores. Explore is the ACT program's college readiness test for eighth and ninth graders, and the Explore scores for the District's past three classes of eighth graders once again topped Township High School District 211's average Explore scores and the national average.

-Story Submitted by Community Consolidated School District 15