Saturday, November 2, 2013

How Far We Have Fallen: D181 On Downward Slide as Reality of ISAT Results and Learning for All Shock Community

Our last post published the Illinois State Report Card rankings of all 9 D181 schools as reported by the Chicago SunTimes.  These rankings are based upon the overall performance of schools on the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) that our students took last Spring.  We expressed our disappointment in the rankings, especially since the majority of our schools dropped in the rankings and we are still well behind the ranking of Butler, our neighboring district in Oak Brook and one of the districts that feeds into Hinsdale Central High School.

While we expressed concern, on Friday, Dr. Schuster chose to celebrate the results in the letter she sent to D181 Families and Staff.  Her letter lacked transparency, failed to report any actual data, and spun the harsh reality of the rankings into a celebration dance that we find downright shocking and offensive to our sensibilities. 

Rather than address or even acknowledge the drop in rankings of most of our schools, she spun the bad news as follows:

"D181 Schools Shine in 2013 ISAT Data Rankings
The 2013 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) results are in, and We are currently ranked #7 for all elementary school districts in the state based on the 2013 ISAT results. When compared to elementary school districts of 2,000 students or more, our ISAT results are the highest in the state! As you may have seen in our Chicago media, we did very well in the various methods of rankings that compare schools’ ISAT data. In the Chicago Sun-Times, six of our seven elementary schools were listed in the top 50 out of more than 3,000 ranked schools, and both CHMS and HMS were listed in the top 50 for middle schools. In the Chicago Tribune listing, three of our schools were listed in the top 50 (elementary and middle school combined). Additionally, the Chicago Tribunereported that Walker School was among the top ten schools in the state with the highest percentage of students who earned the highest scores in reading, math or science on the ISAT

ISAT Data Shows Areas to Celebrate, Improve
As our team of educators continues to review data from the 2013 ISAT, we will find many strengths and many reasons to celebrate. Additionally, we know there will be areas needing improvement. With the new cut scores and increased rigor due to the inclusion of 20% Common Core-based questions, all schools in Illinois anticipated a more challenging assessment. We welcomed that challenge, and we look forward to the opportunity to better identify those areas for improvement.
(11/1/13 Letter to Parents and Staff from Dr. Renee Schuster.)

We highlighted in red the 7 times in two short paragraphs that Dr. Schuster tried to paint a picture of how well our students did when compared to other districts.  We also highlighted in blue the 2 times that Dr. Schuster briefly notes that there may be areas for improvement that her administration will find as they analyze the data.  

After reading this letter, one parent sent an email to Dr. Schuster calling her out for the representations she made in her letter.  The parent's letter was then submitted as a comment to this blog. The parent said:

"I am horrified that you are celebrating these results. This administration has a habit of sugar coating hard truths and putting a spin on them. Since you refuse to tell the truth, I will."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.  We whole-heartedly agree with this parent's reaction and hope you do too, after we expose the hard truth that Dr. Schuster has refused to acknowledge or address.

The reality is that last Spring's ISAT data and our school's rankings show that D181 is on a downward slide.  There is no reason to celebrate at this time, and what needs to happen is an open, transparent, candid and harsh discussion led by our elected representatives -- the Board of Education -- to immediately identify and address exactly what needs to happen STARTING NOW to improve the performance of all of our students in D181.

Here are the facts that show just how far D181 schools have fallen:  

D181 has fallen from a district that used to have all SEVEN elementary schools ranked in the TOP 25 schools in the state, to a district that has only three in the top 25.

As parents who have had children in D181 in a span of over 15 years, we recalled that our schools USED to truly be BEACONS of EXCELLENCE.  That beacon shown brightest less than 10 years ago -- in 2004.  The title of an article in the December 15, 2004 SunTimes read as follows:

"It's unanimous for District 181's elementaries, All 7 Hinsdale-area schools make top 25, credit unified
approach."  Rosalind Rossi. "It's unanimous for District 181's elementaries All 7 Hinsdale-area schools make top 25, credit unified approach." Chicago Sun-Times. 2004. HighBeam Research.(November 2, 2013).

According to this article, in 2004, 

"All seven elementary schools in Community Consolidated District 181 scored among the top 25 in Illinois in reading and math tests.... No.8 Walker led the pack." Rosalind Rossi. "It's unanimous for District 181's elementaries All 7 Hinsdale-area schools make top 25, credit unified approach." Chicago Sun-Times. 2004. HighBeam Research.(November 2, 2013).

According to then Superintendent Mary Curley, she credited the following factors (among others) for the results:
1.  D181 had embraced a single math curriculum -- the University of Chicago Everyday Math series.
2.  A new district-wide reading program had been implemented 2 years earlier -- the Harcourt Trophies series.
3.  The use of experts -- reading specialists and gifted specialists, talent boost in the form of a free-standing gifted program, one to one help and small group help for struggling students. 
Rosalind Rossi. "It's unanimous for District 181's elementaries All 7 Hinsdale-area schools make top 25, credit unified approach." Chicago Sun-Times. 2004. HighBeam Research.(November 2, 2013).

The beacon continued to shine brightly in 2006, when tiered services were in place.  The Chicago SunTimes reported: 

"In the suburbs, Community Consolidated District 181, headquartered in Hinsdale, recorded a clean sweep: All seven of its elementary schools and both middle schools made the top-50 lists." Rosalind Rossi and Art Golab. "Highest test scores go to Chicago schools: City boasts 8 of 10 leading middle schools in Illinois." The Chicago Sun-TimesMarch 6, 2007 

According to that article, Madison School ranked 8th in the state in 2006.

Fast forward to today. Now only Oak, Prospect and Walker rank in the top 25 schools. Walker no longer shines in 8th place. Now it has dropped to 24th place state wide. The other 4 elementary schools have sunk even lower. Madison has dropped from 8th to 30th place. Elm -- 38th place. Lane -- 49th place.  

And most concerning of all, Monroe -- 108th place.

And neither of our 2 middle schools rank in the top 25 either. Both dropped in the rankings last year.

So let's address the representations Dr. Schuster made in her celebratory letter.

"District 181 is once again a beacon of excellence."

The dramatic drop in rankings of most of D181's schools last year alone, and then compared to how high all elementary schools ranked less than 10 years ago, does not reflect a "beacon of excellence."  On the contrary, it looks like the shining light is being extinguished as the beacon has grown dimmer under Dr. Schuster's watch.

"[O]ur ISAT results are the highest in the state!" and "[W]e did very well in the various methods of rankings."

The ISAT results are NOT the highest in the state. The rankings speak for themselves. No one should be proud of rankings that puts D181 in the lead of schools with more than 2000 students. Parents only care about how the INDIVIDUAL school their children attend compare to others in the state.

Individual ranking shows that D181 schools have fallen and are no where near the top, especially when compared to Oak Brook schools, that feed competitive students into the same public high school most   of our students will be attending.

Both parents who have recently moved into D181, those who still have children in D181 and those community members who no longer have students in D181 should be very concerned. As D181 school's rankings plummet, so too will property values, as home buyers will begin to look elsewhere as 
they evaluate what community to raise their children in.

Monroe School area homeowners should be very concerned. Who would want to move into that part of town, when it's elementary school's ranking is so far below that of the other D181 schools? Madison and Walker parents should also be very concerned. From where they used to be ranked, they have fallen dramatically. This is simply unacceptable and no amount of sugar coating will change the fact that something is very wrong with the direction toward social justice, full inclusion and heterogeneity this administration is taking all of our schools.

Any intelligent home buyer who does their homework will uncover the TRUTH, just as we have, that shows that D181 school's performance are dropping. This reality will lead them to dig even deeper into what is going on in our district's schools. Once they realize that our kids have become guinea pigs for the instructional experimentation that have been implemented under the current administration, they will quickly look elsewhere, especially if there is no data to support the radical changes that this 
administration has brought down upon our student and teachers.

Unlike Dr. Schuster, we have not found reason to celebrate these results.  

Even Dr. Schuster must have realized that she had to briefly allude to the actual reality of the performance data, and therefore, Dr. Schuster stated that "we know there will be areas needing improvement" and that her administration will be looking "forward to the opportunity to better identify those areas for improvement."  

She hardly needed to point this out to a community that has already heard from parents whose children are being negatively impacted by the Learning for All Plan that is being forced down everyone's throats. Everyone already knows the areas that need improvement. Students need to be able to learn at their level of ability and desire. If a child performs best when learning GRADE LEVEL material, then that is what they should be taught. No one is arguing against opening the door for students who previously missed the arbitrary cut-offs for higher levels of math and reading/LA programs. No one is arguing against inclusion of Special Education or ELL students into regular ed classrooms. No one is arguing that students should not learn about the ideas of social justice and and ensure that the small percentage of minorities, under-privileged and economically disadvantaged students in our district are all provided the same educational opportunities.

But everyone should agree that NO STUDENT SHOULD BE HARMED by the programs currently being forced upon everyone. No student should be forced to do accelerated work when he/she is not academically or emotionally ready for the challenge. No parent should have to pay for tutors or a tutoring service or to spend hours every night helping their children with homework in order to try and 
make sure their children are understanding the concepts being taught.

No, there is no reason to celebrate at this point. There is, however, every reason to discuss the truth of the data in an open, transparent way that allows parents and community members to ask AND RECEIVE ANSWERS  from Dr. Schuster and the Board of Education. STOP THE SPIN. It's time for everyone to get off the merry-go-round, plant their feet firmly on the ground and address the harsh realities of D181.

In this week's Board Docs, the Administration quotes the following:

"Data should be used as a flashlight, not solely as a hammer."  (Data Quality Campaign Executive Director Aimee Guidera*)

While we agree that data should be used as a flashlight, the administration must take any necessary corrective action to ensure that student performance goes up, not down, and that no student is harmed by the curriculum changes being implemented. Failure to do so in an expeditious manner should result in administrative change in the Central Office.

*POST SCRIPT:  It is ironic that the administration quotes Ms. Guidera.  Time Magazine's January 11, 2012 online edition ran an article on the top 12 2012 Education activists.  This article can be accessed at   and clearly establishes that even Ms. Guidera believes in ACCOUNTABILITY. As the article points out, she "is widely credited for playing a key role in prodding states to improve their data systems and publicly holding them accountable for doing so." It then goes on to state how important the data collection is AND "using it to inform decision-making."  The article concludes by stating that "not everyone is excited about this new era of transparency, which is trying to clean out education's dark corners."  We think that this is evidenced by the continuing lack  of transparency shown by D181's Administrators and the majority of the Board of Education. 


Lisa Regal said...

Let's hold Dawn Benaitis and D181 accountable for these results at Monroe.

How to do this? Send an email to each BOE member today or tomorrow prior to tomorrow night's BOE meeting. Express concern and ask for accountability. Include your name or the BOE will dismiss it.

Dawn Benaitis' one year contract will be reviewed in March.

Thank you!
Lisa Regal
Monroe Parent

Anonymous said...

1. Academics--downward spiral in our standing related to other LIKE communities as the ISAT data points out, no other 'change' data will be shared

2. Ethics--Donoroo Debacle, principal unaware of where charity funds should go in his building, superintendent not telling community until 4 months after learning of issues, Board of Education does not want to talk about it

3. Curriculum--CHANGES!  Advanced Learning, Common Core, Learning for All,  Social justice, All inclusive, Math Madness, no more Gifted programs, Special educators and Reading specialists Pushing into classrooms-- OH MY!

4. Staff moral--Brave Teachers speaking out, fear among teachers of  being identified in an honest discussion of the changes

5. Administration--exponential growth in numbers, salary and inexperience

6. Transparency--FOIA request resistance, No data for 'Change' programs, Board of Ed president cutting off parents and other board members when discussion begins

7. Special Education and RTI--hiring Interventionists and Pupil Service Administrators to keep students from receiving needed services--failing the most fragile learners 

Is it time for a change at the top?

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts as I've been thinking about this issue over the weekend:

1)Every piece of communication coming out of the Department of Learning has 4 names on it. I'm assuming they are doing that because they think the blame cannot be put on a single individual.

2)When the ISAT scores come out next year, they will tell us that our children have performed poorly because the new ISAT will be 100 percent based on the Common Core and they will say that D181 hadn't completely adapted its curriculum to the Common Core.

And yes, Dawn Benaitis should be held accountable for the dismal results at Monroe.

Anonymous said...

They will try to blame everything on the Common Core.

Pleasantdale District 107 in Burr Ridge claimed they were 100% Common Core aligned in math last year and yet their 2013 ISAT scores tanked.

Only 67% of their 7th graders met/exceeded in math.

Joni Sherman, CHMS' new "the math expert," was with those kids since they began middle school.

Doubt our scores will go back up anytime soon :(