Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Comment of the Day: 6th Grade Advanced Math Students' Parents Notified of Student Struggles; Common Core/Big Ideas Blamed rather than the Learning for All/Advanced Learning Plan

Yesterday and today we received the following comments informing us of a letter that 6th Grade Middle School Advanced Math students' parents received this week.  (UPDATED to include HMS letter.) The comments speak for themselves.  Our only eye-rolling comment is, ARE YOU SURPRISED?  We are not, since this latest move by the administration -- like a spinning top out of control -- is exactly the kind of blind eyed refusal to acknowledge the real cause of the students' math struggles.  Nothing is going to change unless Dr. White holds the Department of Learning administrators who were here from the initiation of the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan accountable.  In our opinion, there is only one way to do that at this point and that is to fire them or not renew their contracts.  Anything short of this should result in the Board of Education firing Dr. White, a step they can easily take under the no-cause provision in his contract.  

As always, SOUND OFF!


Anonymous said...

Bloggers: Have you seen copies of the letters sent from the Middle School Principals to the parents of advanced math students? According to the letter I received from Principal Sonntag, there are many students struggling and they are proposing to offer assessment and tutoring to these students. Remember, this is the class that lived through the failed Learning For All plan as it was initially rolled out when these students were in 3rd grade. Every student was accelerated a full grade, ability tiers were eliminated and Everyday Math materials were pushed to the side in favor of DOL created curriculum. Of course, none of these facts are outlined in the letter. Instead, Mr. Sonntag blames only Common Core and the new materials. These things are not the cause of the students problems, they are just making a bad situation worse. We have to remember that MR. Sonntag was one of the key members of the Advanced Learning Task Force that was responsible for continuing and expanding this disaster of a plan. A plan that has failed so many students and teachers from Grades 3-8. Come on Mr. Sonntag, let's tell parents the truth about what has really happened to their students so that they can get them the help that they need in time for high school. Hiding the facts hurts students. HMS parents did you receive a similar letter from Mr. Pena?
Bloggers: Here is a copy of the letter CHMS 6th grade advanced students received. I have deleted the teachers' names because I don't think they need to be identified on this blog. I agree that this letter raises many concerns, in particular, it is ridiculous that D181, such a high achieving district, is blaming Common Core for the problems this group of students is experiencing. The lunacy of that suggestion proves once and for all that the administrators running the department of learning are delusional and need to be fired en masse. Everyone with half a brain knows that the problems this GUINEA PIG cohort of students is having in math is a direct result of the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan, and yet those "plans" are not even mentioned in the letter. I wonder if the full BOE or Learning Committee were made aware of these issues before the letter was sent out. I would bet any amount of money that they were not. What a shame if this blog has now become their source of information. It should make them all realize that the administration cannot be trusted.

"Dear CHMS Parents of Students enrolled in 6th Grade Advanced Math (7th Grade Common Core),
The CHMS Administration and Math Department would like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the 6th Grade Advanced (7th Grade Common Core) math class and our plan to support students whose performance fell below expectations in these classes moving forward. Thank you to parents who have asked questions or shared concerns through our PTO meetings and our Math Coffeetalk a couple of weeks ago.
I want to start by saying that XXXXXXX and XXXXXXX are doing an exceptional job teaching our students. I can’t say enough about how proactive, flexible and positive each of them has been meeting students where they are at and helping them move forward. We are very fortunate to have them teaching math at CHMS.

I think it is important to note the following grades were achieved during 1st quarter in 6th Grade Advanced Math: 37% earned A’s, 43% earned B’s, 19% earned C’s, 1% earned D’s. I am providing this information simply to provide context and information for this discussion as I have heard misinformation being reported. The vast majority of our students are proving successful (80% achieved an A or B during 1st quarter), and for these students, we need to maintain the pacing and rigor of the course. Remember, successful completion of this math course and the 7th Grade Advanced Math class will result in students taking high school Algebra as an 8th grade student at CHMS.
Some additional background information is important as well. As we continue to transition to the Common Core Math Standards, we are moving away from only memorizing how to compute math problems. The Common Core Math Standards support traditional algorithms and why and how the algorithms work. Last spring, District 181 adopted Big Ideas as a math resource that includes a component that teachers can use to explore concepts and teach the conceptual understanding behind the concept. These activities (or explorations) are provided by Big Ideas for each math lesson. Each activity begins with an essential question and students are given time to work with a partner. From there, the students may lead a mathematical discussion with the class. The activities promote curiosity, communication, perseverance, and learning. At times, these explorations may be frustrating to students that have been taught math through lecture for many years. Students are not expected to understand a concept based upon the activity alone. The activity is just one part of the multi-pronged lesson. Teachers spend approximately 3 – 5 days to work through one math lesson, depending on the concept and how quickly the students are understanding it. The additional time for each lesson allows teachers to teach mathematical proficiency, including conceptual understanding, computational fluency, and application.
Students are assessed throughout a chapter using formative assessments. Formative assessments are learning checks to tell our teachers if the students are learning what they are supposed to be learning. Some examples of these are mini-quizzes, exit slips, online homework, and accuracy checks. Our goal is to assess students for this mathematical proficiency during their learning. In addition, our chapter tests look different than they did in past years because deeper, essential questions from some activities and conceptual understanding questions are being included, often in short answer form. In a nutshell, students are being asked to do more than memorize and do the math. They are being asked to explain what they did and why they did it to show a deeper understanding.
At CHMS, we administered a short assessment assessing the prerequisite skills that would help students be successful with the new skills they are learning in chapter 3. Each student will come home (today) with a printed report showing their performance on this assessment. If your child does not come home with this today, please email me and we can send you a PDF of the report. For students who struggled with one or more standard on this test, we have put together a short list of resources that students can access from home to help them master these skills. The list of resources is attached to this email and contains links to IXL Lessons and Khan Academy videos. Students are not required to do this work over Thanksgiving Break, but we wanted to get the information to you prior to break in case this is a time that your child can devote to some review.
After Thanksgiving Break, students in the 6th grade advanced math classes at both CHMS and HMS will administer a more comprehensive assessment of all of the sixth grade standards. We will use the results of this assessment to help guide our future instruction. For standards in which most of the class struggled, we will use class time to review and make sure that students have the skills they need to be successful. For skills that were challenging for only a handful of students, we will look at other options for filling these gaps. One option will be a self-guided set of resources, like the one we are providing for Chapter 3. We will also explore options such as after school support and/or a math lab class in place of encore classes. Finally, for some students who show significant gaps in their math knowledge, we may recommend that 6th grade standard math is a more appropriate placement after attempting to fill in these gaps.
Thank you for all of the support you have already provided your children, and for your patience and support as we work through how to best meet our students’ needs. We are excited about the plans we are putting in place, and we look forward to watching your children continue to learn and grow in math this year.
Please utilize the resources at the link below if your child needs them.
Griffin L. Sonntag, Principal
6th Grade Chapter 3 Prerequisite Skills Assessment Resources.docx
Bloggers: Here is the HMS version. I too have redacted the teacher's name. I wasn't planning to send this to you, but since it is so radically different than the CHMS version, I thought the community should see it. I ask, why would the HMS version be so much shorter? Can you update the Comment of the Day to include this?

November 20, 2015

Dear HMS Parents of Students Enrolled in 6th Grade Advanced Math (7th Grade Common Core),

The HMS Administration and Math Department would like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the 6th Grade Advanced (7th Grade Common Core) math class and our plan to support students whose performance fell below expectations in these classes moving forward. Thank you to parents who have asked questions or shared concerns with either teachers or administrators.

I want to start by saying that XXXXXX is doing an exceptional job teaching our students. I can’t say enough about how proactive, flexible and positive she has been meeting students where they are at and helping them move forward. We are very fortunate to have her teaching math at HMS.

I think it is important to note the following grades were achieved during 1st quarter in 6th Grade Advanced Math: 31.5% earned A’s, 44.4% earned B’s, 21.3% earned C’s, and 2.8% earned D or below. I am providing this information simply to provide context and information for this discussion. The majority of our students are proving successful (75.9% achieved an A or B during 1st quarter), and for these students, we need to maintain the pacing and rigor of the course. Remember, successful completion of this math course and the 7th Grade Advanced Math class will result in students taking high school Algebra as an 8th grade student at HMS.

Students are assessed throughout a chapter using formative assessments. Formative assessments are learning checks to tell our teachers if the students are learning what they are supposed to be learning. Some examples of these are mini-quizzes, exit slips, homework, and accuracy checks. Our goal is to assess students for this mathematical proficiency during their learning. Students are being asked to do more than memorize and do the math. They are being asked to explain what they did and why they did it to show a deeper understanding.

After Thanksgiving Break, students in the 6th grade advanced math classes at both CHMS and HMS will administer an assessment of all of the sixth grade standards. We will use the results of this assessment to help guide our future instruction. For standards in which most of the class struggled, we will use class time to review and make sure that students have the skills they need to be successful. For skills that were challenging for only a handful of students, we will look at other options for filling these gaps. One option will be a self-guided set of resources, such as IXL lessons and Khan Academy videos. We will also explore options such as after school support and/or a math lab class. Finally, for some students who show significant gaps in their math knowledge, we may recommend that 6th grade standard math is a more appropriate placement after attempting to fill in these gaps.

Thank you for all of the support you have already provided your children, and for your patience and support as we work through how to best meet our students’ needs. We are excited about the plans we are putting in place, and we look forward to watching your children continue to learn and grow in math this year.


Ruben Pena, Principal

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Comment of The Day: Former BOE Member Calls for Board Action and Accountability of D181 Administrators

This morning we received the following comment from former Board Member Yvonne Mayer that was a copy of a letter she sent to the Board of Education last night.  We agree with the points she has raised regarding the negative impact the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan has had on D181's advanced learners and the need for the BOE to take action this year.  As always, SOUND OFF!

Yvonne Mayer said...

Bloggers: I am submitting (in several parts) a letter I emailed the Board of Education last night. After attending the Learning Committee meeting earlier this month and listening to the podcast of Monday's BOE meeting in which curriculum and data was discussed, I felt compelled to express my disappointment and anger.

Dear Board of Education Members:

I write to you today as a former Board Member who voted to approve the Advanced Learning Plan. Out of respect for my former status as an elected representative, parent of four D181 graduates and fourteen year resident, I hope that despite the negative opinions some of you have of me, that you will each read this entire email and carefully consider its content. While some of what I will say is harsh and critical, in my opinion, there is no benefit at this point in holding anything back. The district's reputation of providing the highest quality instruction for all students is teetering on the brink of destruction because of the continuing harm caused to advanced learners by the Administration's refusal to identify and implement changes needed to reverse their academic decline resulting from the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plans.

As you know, and as I have publicly reminded Mr. Turek since my term ended, I voted yes to approve the Advanced Learning Plan (despite expressing concerns about the plan and how it might negatively impact the district's highest achievers) because I wanted the administration to have a unanimous vote that they would take seriously. My naive expectation was that they would collect and analyze performance data to ensure that the "Raise the Floor to Raise the Ceiling" plan would actually benefit ALL D181 students. Following the vote, Mr. Turek personally thanked me for being a team player and assured me that he would make sure the data was collected and analyzed and there would be accountability.

Fast forward 3 1/2 years to Monday night's BOE meeting. The data presented to six of you on Monday night (and which was presented earlier this month at the Learning Committee meeting which I attended) established that math students performing in the top 10 percent (using Dr. Larson's virtual MAP analysls) in grades 4, 5, 6 and 8 have not met their growth targets. As Board Members Gray, Garg and Burns pointed out, the conclusion must be that the math programs implemented over the last four years have not benefited them. As Jill Quinones, an educator and parent on the Learning Committee, pointed out during closing public comment, the district is worse off today that when she moved here 15 years ago, because of the elimination of programs offered to advanced learners to meet their needs. (I urge Board Member Vorobiev to listen to the entirety of last night's meeting.)

t has been six years since a qualified Assessment Director (Dr. Strykowski) worked in D181, a position that was unfortunately eliminated at Dr. Schuster's recommendation when the BOE cut $5 million from the budget. It took six years before a qualified assessment director -- Dr. Larson -- with actual educational training in statistical analysis, was hired. In three short months she has thrown herself into her work, analyzed the performance data and publicly informed you and the entire D181 community of the lack of growth shown by the district's advanced learners in Grades 4, 5, 6 and 8.

It took Dr. Larson to analyze and explain the data, that as Board Member Gray highlighted, proves that the advanced learners in the 6th grade class have shown the most stagnation in meeting their performance goals in math. And you all know that this 6th grade class is the guinea pig class (as it has been referred to by concerned community members) that was subjected to the experimentation, acceleration for all, one size fits all, "socially just" curriculum changes in the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plans.

Further, it took Dr. Larson to inform you that the way MAP data has been presented to you over the last several years -- Fall to Fall and by quintiles -- was inappropriate and essentially useless, and that what should have been analyzed is Fall to Spring data, using a Virtual Comparison group method. As I listened to Dr. Larson's explanation during the Learning Committee and BOE meetings, it made me very angry to realize that the assessment administrators that were promoted to that position during Dr. Schuster's superintendency, and were renewed and/or further promoted by Dr. White, were unaware Fall to Fall reports were inappropriate and never once proposed the use of the Virtual Comparison group method.

As concerned community members, including myself, have pointed out to you over and over again, D181 should have been filling administrative positions with qualified and experienced individuals, rather than with individuals who had to learn on the job, and had no educational expertise in statistical analysis or general and advanced learning curricula. Over the last four years, the district paid over $500,000 in salaries to assessment administrators who did not analyze the data correctly, yet there has been zero accountability for their failure to do so.

Over the last three years, the district paid more than $500,000 in salaries to administrators who rolled out programs that I and former Board member Heneghan kept arguing were not ground in best practice research or supporting data. You all are aware of recently released public records that show that the "best practice research" and power points presented to the BOE in support of the Advanced Learning for All Plan were virtually non-existent. Yet no one has been held accountable.

It has been nearly four years since the radical curriculum changes were rolled out that ignored Dr. Moon's recommendation that what actually needed fixing was the identification method being used to place students into advanced learning and gifted classes, and expansion of the advanced learning programs so that these students' needs would be met every day. It has taken 4 years for the data on the "socially just" programs to be analyzed by a qualified statistician and data analyst. It has taken FOUR years for a candid presentation on the findings of this data to be presented followed by an actual discussion by the board members.

It is, therefore, sad (not to mention infuriating) that despite Mr. Turek's personal promise to me that he would insist on proper data collection and analysis in order for the BOE to be able to effectively evaluate the Advanced Learning Plan as it rolled out, that last night he came off as a boorish, angry, defiant bully who wanted to ignore the harsh conclusions that you ALL should have reached following Dr. Larson's presentation. The conclusion? That D181 has utterly failed the advanced learners ever since the Advanced Learning Plan was implemented.

Yet instead of all of you who were in attendance supporting Board Member Gray, Garg and Burns' concerns about the implications of the data, and then turn to the administration to present what steps they are going to take to fix the programs THIS YEAR, Mr. Turek tried to minimize the data analysis. Equally disappointing was Board Member Giltner's suggestion that additional changes to the curriculum to address the underperformance of the district's advance learners should be delayed until more data is collected.  

The time to act is NOW, not six months from now or one year from now. How many more years must D181's young learners have to wait for a program that actually meets each of their individual needs? How many more years must go by before all seven of you acknowledge that the dismantlement of the gifted program was a huge mistake that needs to be rectified this year. How many students have to NOT LEARN at their potential and NOT GROW during an academic year before you realize that the district has come full circle to where it was when Dr. Moon was hired to evaluate the gifted programs?

The flexible ability groups that you directed the administration to implement last spring as a first step to address the problem (which was becoming evident even before Dr. Larson's full data analysis) is not enough. The manner in which the administration has chosen to implement your directive is unrealistic. As pointed out by another parent during public comment last night, the administration has set cut off's that have most likely resulted in the exclusion of many advanced learners who should be learning at a faster pace or higher level in math than grade level. The cut-offs make no sense and I would ask you to direct the administration to explain what data was used (and how best practices were followed to analyze the data) to select the cut-offs.

As pointed out last night, the district has gone from identifying 1/3 of its students as needing acceleration to one where only students who have proven that they are already two years ahead in math can receive ONE year of acceleration. In other words, even these few students will not learn anything new if one applies your identification standards. Admission into any type of accelerated math program has become even more exclusive that the gifted program criticized by Dr. Moon. And yet the administration doesn't seem to be concerned about this fact.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Comment of the Day: D181 Survey on Strategic Planning Goes Live. All D181 Residents Should Take the Time to Complete the Survey.

Today we are publishing one of our comments to the last post as the Comment of the Day.  We encourage all D181 residents to take the D181 Strategic Planning Survey between now and November 8.  After you have taken the online survey, please SOUND OFF on this blog and let us know the types of answers and narrative comments you gave on the survey.

The Parents said...
Everyone who lives in D181 should take the online Strategic Planning Survey that went live today. It can be found at the following website page and clicking on the Survey link on the right hand side of the page:  http://www.d181.org/board-of-education/strategic-plan/index.aspx  
It went live today and is available through November 8.

For once the district has created a useful survey that will allow community members to give real feedback about the district in the following areas: Quality of Education (now and compared to the past), the Learning Environment (this including whether the district is leading our children in the right direction -- this allows for narrative feedback on the current curriculum programs in the district), Communication and community relations, Governance and operations, your district priorities, your vision (for the future) of the district, and KEY to the present -- whether or not you would support building a new Hinsdale Middle School.

We bloggers want to thank BOE member Jennifer Burns who is on the Strategic Planning Committee and who has been working with the strategic planning firm on the survey questions. We appreciate the real effort this survey makes in asking straight forward questions on the State of the District and what parents really want for their children's education.

The only question we are somewhat disappointed in is the HMS question. Rather than simply ask the responder to say if they will vote YES or NO if the referendum question is on the March 2016 ballot, the question provides you four options -- Definitely No, Probably No, Probably Yes, Definitely Yes. This will, in our opinion, create enough wiggle room to allow the administration to spin the responses. Unless people simply say they will vote No, the administration will paint a probably no as a possible yes, thus skewing the results.

Finally, we want to point out that the learning environment question is a good one because it asks you to rate whether or not the administration is making decisions in the best interests of the students. For all parents who believe the social justice, learning for all program has hurt your kids, this is your chance to let the Administration know how disappointed you are in their decisions.

Spread the word to all your neighbors that this is a real opportunity to SOUND OFF to the administration and BOE!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Comment of the Day: Before D181 Goes to Referendum, The Public Has A Right to Have ALL Options on HMS Fully Vetted and Priced Out

We have decided to publish the following comment we received today as the Comment of the Day.  It raises questions and concerns we believe deserve to be addressed by the D181 Administration and Board of Education.  As always, SOUND OFF!

Anonymous said...
The whole process of choosing an architect for HMS reminds me of the process the district used when they hastily decided to tear down all the successful curricular work of previous administrations build the brand new Learning for All plan. It also reminds me of the flawed way the Department of Learning run its math pilots the last 2 years. The few parents that showed up for Board meetings could tell that all BOE members didn't really seem to comprehend the details of LFA and math pilots - probably because none were given. Alternatives options to tweak or improve the current systems were not offered. When people asked for details and data to support the innovative plans, or inquired about the ramifications to students, the administration promised answers and success. None ever appeared. When the public looked on the website for details about the new plans, none were there. Since no one ever showed up to challenge the administration, the BOE felt compelled to submit to the the superintendents. The Learning for All Plan and the math pilots passed, and our kids are still suffering through the kinks. Yet the district refuses to address the growing pains they created in the curriculum, ignores the falling test results, and instead, wants to spend all our money building a new $60 million dollar school? We just spent $2 million on HMS last year. Why would we through that investment away? Our children are more important to us than a new school.

By denying the public the opportunity to see specific costs and visuals of remodeled schools, the administration is telling us again that they will not negotiate with us. They have limited our options, asked for 40% more money to finance a new build rather than remodel, yet expect full support. I don't know about you, but $24 million extra for the same size school in the same bad location is more than I am willing to hand over to the same folks who brought us Learning for All. If we do not explore and negotiate the best way to improve HMS before we hand over the checkbook, and provide these details to the public in writing, the BOE will be making the same, unanimous mistake they made when they allowed LFA to pass years ago.

HMS already is functional, it just needs some tweaking. Maybe the neglect in maintaining HMS for such a long period of time was the reason why the district was so successful academically back then. All of our resources were concentrated on providing the best education possible for students. The main mistake the lighthouse era people seemed to have made is that they did not Obviously, structural needs should not have been ignored, but do we really want to swing the pendulum so far away from educational excellence and spend all of our time and energy on a building a physically excellent new school? The Learning for All plan has been far more costly than ever expected. Especially since it occurred during the time we should have been preparing for the Common Core. The district's heart is in the right place by wanting to build a new school, but if we continue to allow such an expensive, poorly conceived project to occur in our district again, the results will be even more harmful. Before board members begin choosing architects and pulling permits, please slow down and consider all of our options. Show us what a remodel would look like. Tell us how much land we need, and how much other properties are. Make this information public. How much money could we make if we sold HMS' current property? Give us exact estimates, models, and time frames for the cost of a remodel before we decide to dismantle the district again. Now is not the time to build a new school or plan referendums. But it is the time to fix the mess the academic problems this administration created.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Comment of the Day: Building a New HMS Will Not Solve D181's Problems.

We feel compelled to post the following 2 part comment we just received as a Comment of the Day. It is exactly how many in the community feel and it is exactly what the BOE and Dr. White need to read and process before they foolishly "move forward" with a March 2016 referendum.  Sound Off!
Anonymous said...
To believe that somehow a new HMS will suddenly turn our administrators into qualified, competent leaders is ridiculous. Building a multi million dollar school is not going to suddenly make our children understand their new math books better. Nor will it explain why our kids's test scores are falling while the amount of time they spend on homework is rising. The vision and priorities of the superintendent are off course. The BOE needs to immediately halt their plans for a new school and instead:

1) Address academic, student, and curricular needs of students and teachers.

The Department of Learning is failing miserably. Test scores and confusion in the classrooms prove it.

2) Cut the administrative fat that is draining the largest piece of our financial pie: salaries, benefits, and pensions.

Our neighbors, Western Springs, have higher test scores. Obviously their leadership did a better job of preparing the teachers for common core than our district did. While our administration was focusing on experimental math pilots and the elimination of flexible grouping, WS district focused on teaching students what they needed to know in order to be better prepared for the new standardized testing. Why was WS able to do this so quickly without the struggles that our administrators seem to be having? Address academic and student needs, and demand results before administrators ever utter another word about building a new HMS. The only exception to this is improving the facility for immediate safety concerns.

3) Address Safely Issues.

Fix the Drop off lane at HMS. Immediately widen the parent drop off area at HMS to accommodate parents to stop and drop off children, while another lane of parents can drive by. The back up onto Garfield is dangerous and causes a great deal of traffic congestion during the early morning commute. Commuters are rushing to catch the train and are not concerned about driving slowly and cautiously to watch out for 11 and 12 year olds. Lock the back door of HMS that is on the north side of the building. Downtown Hinsdale.
Anonymous said...

4) Help teachers learn how to communicate with parents better.

Last week, HMS parents were only given information about a field trip on the same day that the field trip began. It arrived after kids were already in school. Recently, all HMS parents were emailed information about a teacher, but what the administration didn't tell all parents was that that same week Police and ambulance were called to HMS for a safety issue related only to student behavior that required an entire classroom of students to be evacuated. A new school will not correct the the information stream to parents.

5) Correct the bully D181 culture in which teachers and administrator's opinions carry more weight than those of parents, students, and taxpayers.
Parents trusted the district 5 - 20 years ago because the results were better and the costs were lower. Private schools and tutors were cheaper. Kids weren't always stressed out from homework and testing. Children went to middle school and high school prepared. Now, the expenses are through the roof, and the scores are lower than ever. Yet admin has the nerve to ask us for more money to build a $65 million school? And they call our children privileged? Dr. White sounded like a whiny kid complaining about his chores. The secret to earning parent trust is honesty, follow through, and most importantly, successful results. We don't need a brand new school, but it becoming obvious that we need brand new administrators. We expect our money to be spent on education, not buildings. The biggest problem facing our district is not facilities - it is The Department of Learning. Before we waste any more time, money, and energy on a new school, figure out how to fix the learning environment going on inside of it. Right now, all I see is a bully district who steamrolls its way over all of us in order to earn generous salaries that they have not earned and distract us from the real issues. Building a fancy new school will not improve our children's educations.

Monday, October 19, 2015

10/19/15 BOE Meeting -- HMS Architecture Firm Selected and more.....SOUND OFF!

A little while ago we received the following comment:

Anonymous said...
Bloggers: Can you create a free standing post to address matters discussed during tonight's (10/19/150 BOE meeting? And can you move the comments you have received so far regarding the board docs to that post?
Everyone should check out board questions - wow
Anonymous said...
So let me get this straight. Earlier this summer Dr. White split Dr. Schneider's job as Asst Sup. of the entire Dept. of Learning back into 2 positions. Dr. Schneider got a raise while also losing some of his job responsibilities -- his new title became Asst. Sup. of Dept. of Learning PPS (which everyone understood to mean he would be running the Special Education department). The rest of the Dept. of Learning -- curriculum and instruction -- was to be supervised by the newly re-created Asst. Sup of Dept. Of Learning - Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Tornatore was hired as the interim Asst. Sup. to oversee the Dept. of Learning Curriculum and Instruction. There were, however, references to Dr. Schneider working alongside Dr. Tornatore in the Dept. of Learning and this was very troubling to many parents in our community.

I and other parents, have spoken to parents who brought met with Dr. White at the end of the summer to discuss serious concerns related to information uncovered in FOIA responses they received from D181 and the University of Wisconsin dealing Dr. Schneider's use of personal emails to conduct D181 business and other accusations and provocative statements made in these emails. During this meeting, Dr. White stated that Dr. Schneider was no longer going to deal with general or advanced learning curriculum matters. Yet today in the board member question and answers posted on board docs, Dr. White reveals that Dr Schneider is going to evaluate the performance of Dr. Larson and Dr. Benaitis, both whose positions are supposed to report to the Asst. Sup. of Curriculum and Instruction, and not report to Dr. Schneider. What is going on with Dr. White that he would flip flop on what he clearly told the concerned parents? Why isn't he going to conduct these evaluations himself if Dr. Tornatore may not be here at the time of the evaluations? I sincerely hope that the BOE members get to the bottom of this and demand an explanation from Dr. White. He certainly is paid enough to handle the evaluation of two of his central office administrators.

Monday, September 28, 2015

D181 Elementary Math Ability Groupings -- The BOE Mandated Them. Will the Administration Comply?

Per a reader's request, we are creating a free standing post on whether or not the D181 Administration will be implementing the mandated return of Elementary Math Ability Groupings.

Anonymous said...
To the Bloggers:
Would you please make a free standing post on the ridiculous excuse for a math ability grouping update in Dr. White's board of education report for Monday's meeting? Parents should be aware that the administration is stalling and asking for more time to collect results on how our kids are doing in math after completing two chapters. The Board told Dr. White math must have ability groups and it looks like this depends on the teacher your kid gets. Also, Dr. T is only working 100 days in the Learning Department. By my count she has already worked about 37 days. What projects has she or will she complete since math ability grouping results won't be reviewed now until sometime in October?
Another waste of time and money. More lip service from the administration. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PARCC Assessment Comments -- "Read them and Weep....."

We have begun receiving a steady stream of comments regarding the release of the PARCC Assessment Results.  We are happy to oblige an anonymous reader's request that we create a free standing post where comments can be submitted.  Below are the ones we have already received. As alway, we invite you to sound off!

Be sure to click on the link in the last comment copied below.  It shows the preliminary data ISBE released today.  Pitiful. Looks like school district administrative spin machines are about to kick into high gear state wide.....

Comments received so far:

Anonymous said...
Part 1: Bloggers: I'm copying an email letter D181 parents and community members received today and that is also posted on the D181 website regarding the upcoming state release of the PARCC assessment scores. That is the test that replaced the ISAT tests. I don't know about you, but I read this letter as preemptive excuse making, should D181's students score badly.....

Text of Letter: "This letter is to share news on the initial release of PARCC Assessment data and to provide an update on efforts to review our District 181 Assessment Framework.

Assessments are of critical importance for continuous improvement. They are used to support students by informing instruction, guiding differentiation, and measuring growth for individuals and groups of learners. Some assessments provide immediate feedback, and some are used to create comparative analyses over time. To this end, we have built a robust assessment framework that includes nationally normed assessments as well as formative assessments that help our classroom teachers make day-to-day decisions about students' content mastery and help our team of educators make long-term decisions about curriculum and instruction across the District.

Our Assessment Framework must include a balance of all types of assessments while also being sensitive to the time that is taken from the actual tasks of teaching and learning. We are currently reviewing this balance and considering which assessments could be eliminated in response to consistent feedback from teachers, parents, and administrators. It is important we continue to talk with our community about why we administer each of our assessments, how they benefit students, are how they are used in decision making.

The PARCC Assessment is not being considered for elimination, as it is state-mandated, having replaced the previous Illinois Standards Assessment Test (ISAT). The first administration of the PARCC Assessment during the 2014-15 school year was a challenge for districts across the state. Change can be hard, especially considering the move from a written format to an online format and most importantly, the alignment of PARCC questions to the new Common Core standards. I am extremely proud of the partnership of D181 staff and parents in supporting our students' participation. We did not allow what seemed to be daunting hurdles to get in the way of our efforts to create a positive testing experience."
Anonymous said...
Part 2 -- Letter from Don White re PARCC tests:

"I recently received a communication from the State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith in which he notes that the State Board of Education will release "the initial, and still incomplete, statewide results from the PARCC test" on Wednesday, September 16. I am excited to see how Illinois students have performed. According to Dr. Smith, district and student level data is not ready for release to school districts and may not be shared until later this fall. We will post a link to the released data on our website as it is made available (www.d181.org > Learning > Assessment > PARCC). On this same webpage, we have posted an important memo outlining changes to PARCC that have been announced for 2015-16.

I think it is extremely important we understand that PARCC is simply one assessment, a part of the District's overall assessment framework along with components like the MAP Assessment, end-of-unit tests, and teacher observations. We must be cautious not to overreact to any one set of data and should focus on how data can inform and ultimately improve our work. Dr. Smith highlighted this caution in regard to the PARCC data. He shared that while the numbers are not final, the percentage of students across Illinois who demonstrate proficiency are likely to be lower than the percentage of students who were proficient on the ISAT. The State Superintendent said it well when he offered that "the initial [PARCC] results are simply a new baseline from which we can move forward."

Taking on warranted challenges are worth the effort when students benefit and when educators are stretched to consider new strategies for improving our practices to better support the children we serve. I am confident that if the State can accomplish the goal of providing individual student results by the start of the school year in the future, PARCC will be a great tool to help educators provide improved learning opportunities.


Don White, Ph.D.
Jill Quinones said...
I guess I am most troubled by the last sentence that reads in part "PARCC will be a great tool to help educators provide improved learning opportunities." As we know, more and more states, both those that have and have not abandoned the Common Core, have dropped out of PARCC. Illinois is now one of only 12 or 13 states using it. A recent article in Education week revealed that cut scores were set by teachers sent from each state analyzing data and making recommendations to PARCC representatives who then looked at where the actual student test scores would fall using those teacher-recommended scores and then adopted "mid range" cut scores - whatever that means. I have never heard of test cut scores being based on actual student performance when you are trying to hold students to a certain standard of performance.

My understanding is that the scores posted tomorrow will not include those from students who took the test paper/pencil - only computer. In Ohio that meant 36% of the students' scores were not included.

As a teacher, no one has yet been able to articulate to me in any specific way how a student's score on this test will translate into improved learning opportunities. I personally have little faith that the scores will really reflect what the CCSS expect to be mastered.
Jill Quinones said...
For anyone interested, PARCC released today a mock score report: http://www.parcconline.org/assessments/score-results

Level 2 Standard score 700, Level 3 725, Level 4 750 and Level 5 depends on grade and subject. No word on how actual score translated into Standard Score....
Jill Quinones said...
PS - States are allowed to change the Pearson-set cut scores and set there own...
Anonymous said...
Bloggers: Please create a freestanding post for PARCC comments. Here's another one. Read this and weep: https://preaprez.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/illinois-parcc-results-are-bad-but-ieas-klickna-refuses-to-challenge-common-core-and-parcc-assumptions/
Anonymous said...
No one in HS Math exceeded expectation on the PARCC assessment:


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

D181's Plans for a New Hinsdale Middle School? Sound Off!

No, we are not back.  However, today we received a comment regarding the unveiling of the three preliminary architectural plans for a new Hinsdale Middle School that were presented last night at one of the three meetings D181 is hosting this week.  Since this is clearly going to be an important topic of discussion for all D181 taxpayers over the next six months, we have decided to post the first comment below and create this free standing post for our readers to post comments on regarding building a new HMS and the referendum that would need to pass in order to raise the money for a new school.

Please sound off on this important topic!

Anonymous said...
I went to the facilities thing the district hosted last night at HMS. There were three architectural firms there, each with a different design for a new school. All three designs were interesting, though not necessarily in a good way.

One design I felt was very cool; it has a green roof classes can go to, plus terrariums and a large auditorium. However, as we saw with HMS and the "open concept" design, what's "cool" now doesn't mean it'll remain "cool" for the entire life span of the building. Plus, I don't know how practical it would be.

Another design had the main building, plus three "houses" connected to it, one for each grade level. I find this interesting, but not in a good way. I also talked to the architects about student capacity: 825 students. I'm sorry, but that's pathetic. HMS has frequently had over 825 students for the last decade. So I asked how easy it would be to expand, and add portables. They looked at me like I had three heads. They told me that they had projected 800-850 students. How far into the future did these projections go? 5 years? 10? And for a building that should last 40+ years, that's unacceptable. Should the district get a large influx of students, where will we put them? Build a third middle school?

The third design was probably the most boring, yet most practical. Lots of classrooms, plus an auditorium & gymnasium/fitness lab available for public use. However, on the blueprints, there's a student locker room on the opposite side of the building from the gym. There was nothing in the immediate vicinity the locker room would be used for. So I asked one of the architects, and he agreed that the placement didn't make sense, so he gestured for another architects with the firm to take a look. She said that it was so that the public couldn't look into it. Um… you can still attach it to the gym, and have it inaccessible to the general public. To make it worse, there were already locker rooms attached to the gym, apparently for public use. ?!? What the heck were they thinking? Plus, it would take around 1-2 minutes to go to the locker rooms to change into gym clothes, another 1-2 minutes to go back to the gym, plus all that again to change back into regular clothes at the end of class. So in a 42 minute period, students lose about 1/8 of the class just to go to & from the locker room, which doesn't include actual changing time, which probably gets closer to 1/4 of the period lost.

All designs had similar issues though: where are the day-today, behind-the-scenes stuff? Where's the elevator? Is it in an accessible place? Where are the staff bathrooms, staff lounge, copy/work rooms, custodial work areas, IT room? The kind of stuff where if you're there once, it's a minor inconvenience. But for students & staff there all day, everyday, it's a nightmare. All of the architects said the same things: this is very early drafts, and can change. I hope they get input on the needs, and not just from central office administrators. They really need to actively get input from the building staff & students/parents. Plus, don't go with what's "cool": go with what's practical and lasts for the 40+ year life of the school. Plus, make contingencies for if/when we get a lot more students, and parking.

On a separate matter, I heard that the 6th graders were finally able to hold classes in the new portables. Woo-hoo! Unfortunately, with the rain, there were already leaks in each room, along with the ramp. Are you (expletive) kidding me? What bozos are running this circus? Fortunately, I hear it was small drips in the classrooms, but still leaks nonetheless. We really need more competent people here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Welcome Back to School and Good Luck!

This morning our children headed back to school. The D181 teachers have been busy over the last week getting their classrooms ready and engaging in staff development activities as they await the return of their young charges. Parents have been hard at play all summer with their children, enjoying time off from last year's chaos and turmoil in the classrooms and the ever changing curriculum model our kids were subjected to for four years. Now it's time for everyone to return to the business of learning and so we welcome both students and D181 staff back to all nine schools and wish them the very best for the 2015-2016 school year.

With the start of the new school year, we -- the bloggers -- have made a decision to "stand down" following this post. Our readers might expect that with all of the important issues D181 students, staff and taxpayers are going to face this year, that we would continue posting regularly in our continuing quest to ensure transparency in all things D181. However, we have decided not to.  Why is that, our readers might be asking? The reasons include:

1.  We have written about important issues for over two years and provided a forum for the community to speak out without fear of repercussion, however, it is time to pass the baton to younger parents who need to step up to the plate and push for accountability and transparency by the district authorities -- the administration and the Board of Education. As we drove or walked our older children to school this morning, we saw the smiling and proud faces of the district's youngest learners --  5 and 6 years olds, who are starting the first year of their nine year D181 educational journey.  For some of these children, they are the oldest in their family and their parents have no experiences with the curriculum turmoil that older students have gone through. For others, parents of older students --while they too were smiling -- they may have been feeling trepidation (as we were) over what this year will hold for their children. In both instances, these parents must now do more than smile and hope for the best. They need to stay engaged, alert, attentive and not tolerate any harm coming to their children from poor administrative and curricular decisions. They need to assume responsibility, get involved and stay involved in overseeing their student's education and not just assume that because their students are enrolled in D181 that everything is perfect and cannot be improved.

2.  We hope that the Board of Education will partner with parents to demand that the administration be held accountable for its poor (and in our opinion, harmful) past decisions and take the necessary steps to ensure that our children are no longer harmed academically by the continuation of the  experimental, social justice ideological, untested, unproven curriculum models that the administration forced upon our children for four years.

3.  Three new board members, Leslie Gray, Jennifer Burns and Richard Giltner have for the most part impressed us since they joined the BOE in May. Along with Board President Mridu Garg, they have been asking the right questions and were instrumental in forcing the administration to begin to change the one size fits all instructional model that clearly wasn't working for our students. In addition to asking meaningful and pointed instructional and assessment questions, they have also started asking tough questions about district expenses. It is our hope that they will not back down and will continue to demand answers and information on any issue that impacts our children and our pocketbooks.  In fairness to their efforts to date, we do not think it would be productive or constructive to (for lack of a better term) "micromanage" all of their actions. Change takes time and we believe the new BOE is well positioned to move the district in a positive direction. So we will give them the opportunity to assume the torch and shine a public light on the good and the bad in D181 and more importantly, fix the bad. We hope they don't let us down.

There will be many D181 issues that will impact students and taxpayers this year and it is our hope and expectation that the BOE will insist that the administration provide them and and all residents real, accurate, timely and unbiased information so that ALL OF US, can make well informed decisions. These issues include:

1.  Is Dr. White doing a good job as the superintendent and should his three year contract be renewed? He is starting year 2 of a 3 year contract and by the end of this school year, the BOE should decide whether or not he should be told his contract will/won't be renewed so, if necessary, there will be time to conduct a search for a new superintendent during his third year. What should influence the BOE's decision?

a.  Have the administrators Dr. White recommended the BOE hire and is responsible for overseeing been successful? Specifically, he recently split (with no reduction in salary) Dr. Schneider's job responsibilities and hired a second Assistant Superintendent of Learning. Unfortunately (as some of the new board members bravely pointed out at the last board meeting), hiring someone who is retired and can only work 100 days is very troubling. Whether that person works 100 straight days and then the district has to hire another interim, or works two months straight and then only part time for the rest of the year, the bottom line is that this is not an effective approach to address the curriculum crisis that they are walking into. Whatever the "real" reasons are for Dr. White's decision to hire a second Assistant Superintendent of Learning, in our opinion, this decision should have been made months earlier, well before the summer break, so that a PERMANENT, FULL TIME, QUALIFIED, EXPERIENCED CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTIONAL LEADER WHO UNDERSTANDS AND CAN RELATE TO OUR DEMOGRAPHIC could have been recruited and hired. The BOE must pay careful attention to the actual work done by the interim administrator(s) Dr. White brings on board, because our children cannot afford for any time to be wasted attempting to undo the curriculum mess. Someone should have been hired whose sole focus was to right the sinking curriculum ship, and not just do "projects" (as Dr. White stated in the district press release that the new interim would be doing). The BOE also needs to keep a close eye on the new assessment director who we are not confident possesses the correct skill set to effectively analyze our student's performance data and report on the effectiveness of our children's curriculum.

b.  Does Dr. White hold his administrators accountable? For two years we have written about the failure by the administration and the past BOE to hold staff accountable for poor decisions and the negative impacts on our students. We have argued this until we are blue in the face. Before the BOE renews Dr. White's contract, it must decide not only if the administrators he has hired are actually doing their jobs and doing them well, but if they have not, has Dr. White held them accountable, or has a "circling the wagons" mentality simply continued in order to protect under performing administrators. In addition to Dr. White's new hires, has Dr. White provided sufficient justification to the BOE to keep administrators that are not pulling their weight in the Department of Learning (you all know who we are referring to)? Taxpayers pay the extremely generous salaries of all D181 staff. We should not have to pay high salaries for bad administrators.

c.  Does Dr. White understand our community's demographic and really understand (or want to understand) the type of educational environment that will make all of our students thrive? Does he really want to hear what residents have to say or will this be another year where there is no meaningful, public forum such as a Town Hall Meeting despite repeated requests for one?

2.  Are all student's being taught to their academic level and are they being properly identified?  We have spent two years reporting on the curriculum mess in D181.  Rather than fixing the identification process for placing students into different academic tiers in math and language arts (or into the now defunct gifted programs), the district embarked on a four year curriculum revamp that morphed from an attempt to implement more effective differentiation for all students to an Advanced Learning Plan with math acceleration for all students, to a  Learning for All Plan with a one size fits all inclusive integrate class room model to what we have renamed the Learning for None plan.  Throughout this journey, despite brave parents stepping up to demand grade level instruction for their students who should never have been slotted in the "everyone will be accelerated in math" model, and despite a proper data performance evaluation of the curriculum changes and their impact on students, in our opinion, the administration's attitude was nothing more than a warped version of the Emperor's New Clothes.  The BOE and community were repeatedly told that the new programs were great and everyone should be able to see that, and the old BOE allowed the "Map" to be redrawn over and over again with no real destination in sight other than an experimental journey to reach a socially just nirvana.  Finally the NEW BOE stepped up to the plate and said, enough is enough.  Time to change course again and actually, reverse course.  So now academic tiers and placement testing into tiers have made a return to the district.  But with this most recent change, come the "same old questions" of years past.  Is the identification process currently being used to place our students better than the one that was thrown out four years ago?  How will we know if what the administration is telling the BOE regarding placement decisions is valid?  We hope the BOE will start the year by asking these important questions and not turning a blind eye to "Emperor's New Clothes" type answers.

3  Best Practices.  Anything that impacts our students in the classroom should be based upon best practices.  In another instance of the Emperor's New Clothes, our community has been asked to simply believe that all the curriculum changes forced upon our students were based upon best practices.  For years, brave parents and board members demanded to see the proof that would establish that best practices were being implemented through the Advanced Learning/Learning for All plans.  In our opinion, the proof of best practices was never presented to us or the BOE.  With the curriculum changes being implemented this year, we hope and expect the BOE to insist that if the administration says something is based on best practice that they actually have to prove it.  Otherwise, we fear that this year will be nothing more than a continuation of the past curriculum mess.

4.  Facilities and the Impact on Taxpayers.  We could probably set up an entire blog to track the decisions that will be made (first by the BOE and then by taxpayers) on the future of Hinsdale Middle School.  In the next month or so, architectural schematics on "what to do" with HMS will be presented to the community during public meetings.  Issues surrounding the future of HMS include: Should it be renovated and possibly expanded?  Should it be torn down and a new school built?  Is it "fair" that HMS students have to attend a school that some believe is sub-standard when compared to the 8 other schools in the district? What will the two options cost the taxpayer?  Will the community support a referendum for either option?  What will happen if a referendum fails?  Dr. White has told the BOE that a decision must be made whether to go to referendum to  raise money needed for either option as early as March 2016.  That is less than seven months away.  As we sit on the sidelines and watch Dr. White, the BOE, the facilities committee and the finance committee take first crack at debating the issues, we have to say that we are not confident that a referendum for either option stands a chance at passing, at least not the first time around.  Why do we lack confidence?

a. We lack this confidence because while the community has been asked to complete an online survey on the future of HMS, no actual financial information was provided in the survey. We know, because we have taken it. Yes, some broad projections were provided, but they were provided AFTER the questions on what option was preferred. And those projections were not based upon any actual schematics that were received by the district. In our opinion, the administration is wasting our time with useless surveys. They should have waited until the schematics were presented by the various architectural firms and once the actual cost of each proposal was vetted and converted to taxpayer impact scenarios (for more than an owner of a $500,000 home) THAT information should have been presented to us in a survey asking for our opinions on both options.  WE ARE ALL SUPER INTELLIGENT TAX PAYERS. The administration will not be able to snow us on such an important capital decision that will negatively impact our tax bill regardless of which option we might or might not support. What we need to know is what will the financial hit actually be and then tell us why we should be willing to support it. We are already troubled by the information stream we are being given before we are asked to give the BOE and administration our opinions. That approach needs to change if we are to feel confident in any referendum request.

b.  We also lack confidence in what option is best for HMS because even now, the much smaller project of installing extra mobile units to increase learning space capacity could not be completed in time for the first day of school. We have heard Dr. White and the administration blame the Village of Hinsdale for slowing down the permitting process. But in our opinion, the Village of Hinsdale did nothing wrong. It was the administration that should have decided months earlier than it did, that mobile units were needed for this school year. Had they asked the BOE to approve the mobile units in late winter or early spring, they would have been able to seek the permits and start the installation process right after school let out for the summer.  Instead, the BOE wasn't asked to approve the mobiles until late spring. Even under the best scenarios, the administration should have been foreseen that the mobiles would not have been ready on time with such a late start to the project.  The administration should have been more candid about that from day one, rather than represent that the project would be completed by the time school resumed.  Having to make the walk of shame at the last board meeting and admit the work wouldn't be completed in time was hard, but for the administration to not assume any responsibility for this poor planning was really shameful. What we are left with is the sad realization that the incoming 6th graders -- who by the way are the same "guinea pig" students who were experimented on and harmed by the acceleration for all, social justice/all inclusive, integrated classroom/one size fits all model -- are now starting their middle school experience as displaced students. While this inconvenience will hopefully only last a week or two, as parents, we should all be asking just how many negative experiences does the administration expect to put our children through before we are forced to consider moving them out of district? If we can't trust the administration to get a small capital improvement project done in a timely way, how can we trust them with the huge undertaking of renovating or building an entire building?

5.  Other Taxpayer issues.  A can that has been kicked down the road for the last several years by the Illinois legislators is how to fix the public employee pension system.  The legislators have debated options that include moving the pension burden to the individual districts and if this happens, the district will be forced to spend millions of dollars each year funding the teacher pensions.  That is money that will reduce our operational budget and may force the district to spend down its reserves or ask the tax payers to approve an operational referendum (beyond any capital referendum to fix/rebuild HMS).  The administration has not built projections on the possible impact of such legislation into the school budget, and we think this is irresponsible.  It is pretty clear from the ongoing political debate that school funding models will be changing.  In addition to the pension changes, the idea of freezing property taxes has been floated in Springfield.  All of these changes will affect our pocket books and schools. While the Illinois legislators have managed to delay school funding decisions, it is not in D181's best interest to pretend that change is not going to happen.  The administration should be planning for the "rainy day" and presenting these plans to the BOE.  The administration's failure to do so should cause all of us taxpayers to question any attempts to raise our taxes.

There are no doubt many more issues that we could list, but we will stop with these five. Our hope, however, is that all of our readers and D181 taxpayers/residents will not stop. Our hope is that you will all stay informed on any issue that you think impacts your children's education and your pocketbook. While this will be our last blog post, we do not intend to shut down the blog to community member comments. We encourage our readers to send in comments on any concerns or complements you have relating to D181. We also encourage the District Teachers to continue to use this as a forum to let us know if there are issues or staff concerns that parents should be aware of.  More importantly, we encourage our readers to be brave and fight for what you think is right for all of D181's students. Don't be afraid to speak up. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to demand accountability.  Remember that the school board members were elected by all of you to do represent the electorate (not the administration) and they were elected to oversee and approve all expenditures, tax levies and financial obligations that will impact our pocketbooks. Most importantly they were elected to evaluate and approve all school programs and do what is best for our children.  Don't be afraid to publicly remind the board members of their obligations and remind them that as they do their jobs, they must also be fully transparent and hold Dr. White accountable.  

Finally, we want to thank all of our readers who have supported this blog and empowered us to continue to speak out.  Now it's your turn!