Friday, October 31, 2014

Hot off the Press: 2014 Illinois School Report Cards Have Been Released, Along with School Rankings

Just like last year, at midnight, the 2014 Illinois School Report Cards and the official rankings were finally released for everyone to see.

The Top 50 Schools were ranked for each category:  Elementary, Middle and High School.

D86 High School our students will attend:  Last year, Hinsdale Central High School ranked 4th in the entire state.  This year, it dropped 2 spots to rank

The top 5 high schools were 1. Payton College Prep (Chicago, ranked #1 in 2013), Northside College Preparatory (Chicago, ranked #2 in 2013), Young Magnet H.S. (Chicago, ranked #3 in 2013), Jones College Prep H.S. (Chicago, ranked #5 in 2013) and New Trier (Winnetka, ranked #6 in 2013).  We were glad to see that while HCHS dropped slightly, it is still in the top 6 high schools in the state.

D181 School Rankings:  Before we review the rankings, we want to remind you of some of the statements Superintendent White made in the letter he sent to D181 parents on Thursday, October 30. He stated:  "It is important to note that the ISAT cut scores were raised from 2013 to 2014 to prepare students, staff, families and schools for the more rigorous Common Core Standards.  The assessment also included questions designed to better align to the new standards.  We must therefore be cautious in drawing conclusions when making year-to-year comparisons in ISAT results.  The new cut scores do not mean that our students know less than they did before or are less capable than they were in previous years.  Instead, it means that the state expects a higher level of procedural and conceptual knowledge be demonstrated to meet and/or exceed grade level standards."

Since all Illinois students were judged using the same cut-scores as D181 students, we were curious to see of our schools would rank the same or higher than they did last year, and how our schools performed in relation to  schools that performed worse than ours last year. The results were very troubling for most of our schools.

Middle Schools:

The news was not good for Hinsdale Middle School (HMS) or Clarendon Hills Middle School (CHMS).  After dropping in the rankings from 2012 to 2013, they both had a precipitous drop in rankings in 2014. In 2013 both schools ranked in the top 50, but both dropped out of that tier in 2014.

Hinsdale Middle School dropped from from 27th to
63rd in the state (after dropping from 22nd in 2012). 

CHMS dropped from 32nd to 74th in the state,  (after dropping from 26th in 2012). 

Butler Middle School in Oak Brook, the district D181 most often compares itself to -- and is a feeder school into Hinsdale Central -- also dropped in the ranking from 15th in the state in 2013 to 57th in the state in 2014.

While Butler also dropped in the rankings, as with last year, a divide still exists between the performance of students at Butler and those in D181's middle schools. This is troubling since our students must compete with Butler students at Hinsdale Central and the scores continue to show that Butler students enter high school better prepared than D181 students.  

More concerning, however, was the fact that while our two middle schools plummeted in the rankings, those in the Top 20 were either stable or included schools that had tremendous increase in their rankings, despite the new cut-scores that Dr. White referenced in his letter.  

We looked at what schools ranked in the Top 20, to see if there has been much movement up or down by schools since last year. Seven of the schools that ranked in the Top 10 last year, remained in the Top 10.   Nine of the schools that ranked in the Top 20 last year, remained in the Top 20.  But eleven of the schools in this years Top 20 were not on last year's Top 20 list.  In fact, some of the 2014 top middle schools were not even ranked in the Top 100 last year.  Somehow, despite the new cut-scores, and more rigorous questions asked on the ISAT test in anticipation of next year's PARRC assessment, these schools excelled. 

So what happened to D181's middle schools?  Parents should demand an explanation from Dr. White and Dr. Schneider.

Top 50 Illinois Middle   Schools

2014 RankSchoolLocation2013 Rank2012 RankPercentile
1Keller Elem Gifted Magnet SchoolChicago3396.1
2Edison Elem Regional Gifted CntrChicago2193.9
3Lenart Elem Regional Gifted CtrChicago3490.9
4Skinner Elem SchoolChicago7789.3
5Iles Elem SchoolSpringfield6688.9
6Lincoln Elem SchoolChicago121087.6
7Hawthorne Elem Scholastic AcademyChicago8987.2
8Bell Elem SchoolChicago111384.8
9Edgebrook Elem SchoolChicago354284.5
10Young Magnet High SchoolChicago1283.5
11Coonley Elem SchoolChicago13733782.7
12The Joseph Sears SchoolKenilworth221882.5
13Lisbon Grade SchoolNewark416782.3
14Bartelso Elem SchoolBartelso423679.5
15Fairview South Elementary SchoolSkokie17318979.2
16Blaine Elem SchoolChicago364578.2
17Jackson A Elem Language AcadChicago233577.4
18Hollis Consolidated Grade SchPeoria26018576.5
19Rondout Elem SchoolLake Forest17911876.1
20Jefferson Elem SchoolMetropolis18217775.7

Elementary Schools:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Breaking News: Two Communications from Dr. White.

In the interest of transparency, below we are publishing two communications that Superintendent White emailed to D181 parents this afternoon.  The first is a letter informing parents that the math pilot Investigations WILL BE DISCONTINUED.

The second communication informs parents that the Illinois State Report Cards, with the D181 ISAT district wide scores, will be available tomorrow.  Of concern in the latter communications is a clear attempt, in our opinion, to prepare the parents for bad news and try to minimize it as just one data point.  Let's not forget last year's dismal results which we reported on last year at 10/31/13 post and 11/2/13 post.

So stay tuned until tomorrow's release of the information.

Communication #1 from Dr. White on Math Pilots:

October 30, 2014
Dear D181 Families,
As shared in a memo to you on October 24, we are seeking a math resource that provides a strong foundation in fluency, conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge, and application, while also providing an instructional base that is grounded in the Eight Mathematical Practices. In addition, the chosen resource must provide tools for teachers to differentiate based on the needs of students, provide rigor in both instruction and homework, and allow teachers to follow our implementation of the Common Core standards. Since the start of the year, we have been piloting four different material sets to identify the best resource to meet those needs - Math in Focus (K-5), Investigations (K-5), Big Ideas (6-8) and Agile Mind (6-8).

It is important to remember that materials are one component of providing a challenging and engaging math education. We are guided first by the Common Core standards. The standards define what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level. As an individual district, we create the curriculum that describes what students need to learn to meet those standards. We then look at the delivery of instruction and the resources that serve as our tools.

During the October 27 Board meeting, we discussed the math pilot with our Board of Education members and heard from a number of parents during Public Comment. We appreciated the opportunity to discuss this important topic and listen to our community members. The Department of Learning led the conversation around what we have learned from the pilot so far and the next steps as we move forward. Below is a summary of our key decisions to date:
• The HMS staff, Math Committee and administration have determined that Agile Mind will not be a strong primary resource for our District at this time. The Board supported our plan to work with the HMS teachers in shifting from Agile Mind back to their previous resource (Glencoe or McDougal-Littell) for the remainder of the year. The teachers are already working to find a natural place to conclude in Agile Mind; that pilot will be finished for all HMS classes by the end of next week. The teachers will still have access to the Agile Mind resources as needed for supplemental instruction. During the November 4 Institute Day, the HMS staff will review the content that has and has not been covered to create a smooth transition for their students and ensure they meet their learning targets this school year. For HMS families with specific questions about your child’s instruction, please contact your child’s teacher or Mr. Peña.
• The pilot of Investigations at Elm and Madison has resulted in conflicting views. While some teachers and parents have expressed concern and a desire to stop the pilot of this resource, we have also heard positive feedback from teachers and parents. We therefore felt it was important to bring the teachers together as soon as possible to continue the conversation around their reflections on the materials. The Department of Learning thus met with teachers on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss Investigations. Based on their input and that of parents who have shared their views, we have determined that Investigations will not be a strong primary resource at this time. Like the HMS staff members who piloted Agile Mind, we will be working with the Madison and Elm School teachers in shifting back to their previous resource (Everyday Math with Common Core supplements) for the remainder of the year. The teachers will be working to find a natural place to conclude in Investigations; they will still have access to the Investigations resources as needed for supplemental instruction. During the November 4 Institute Day, the Madison and Elm staff will review the content that has and has not been covered to create a smooth transition for their students and ensure they, too, meet their learning targets this school year. For Madison and Elm School families with specific questions about your child’s instruction, please contact your child’s teacher or principal.
• We are planning to continue the pilots of Math in Focus (Monroe, Prospect, Oak) and Big Ideas (CHMS). We are also still planning to survey participating students, staff and parents at the conclusion of these resource pilots prior to making any material recommendations to the Board in January. It is important to note that continuing only these two pilots does not guarantee their selection. After reviewing the data that is available at the end of the pilot, it is possible our recommendation may be to choose one resource, both resources, or neither.
• We recognize a need for continued and increased communication around this topic and several of the key components in the Learning for All Plan.
o We need to more clearly outline the philosophy and vision that have guided our decisions.
o We need to create common, District-wide definitions for terms such as “differentiation” and
“flexible grouping” that are being used in our conversations.
o We need to explain the academic path for math instruction in the District in a way that is simplified
but specific.
o We need to identify the practices that should be consistent across schools and the areas in which
teachers should have latitude to make the decisions that they know as professionals will be best for
their students.
o We need to generate new ideas for increasing staff collaboration time.
o We need to continue professional development as staff work hard to implement new practices
aligned to the New Illinois State Standards.

Though we are discontinuing two of the four pilot materials, we are hearing very positive feedback from many teachers about the way their math instruction has already been transformed. Focusing on  Practices, embracing the balance of procedural and conceptual knowledge called for in the Common Core standards, and looking at math in a new way has been a challenging and exciting effort for our team of educators. We look forward to continued professional development in these areas.

Please watch for additional communication coming to you on these topics. While we don’t want to overwhelm families with too many messages, we believe increased outreach is needed over the coming weeks. We invite you to continue visiting our website for further information: > Learning > Math Pilot. Lastly, please be sure to refer to the body of the email that came with this message, alerting you to the October 31 release of State Report Card data from our students’ participation in the March 2014 ISAT and our participation in the Illinois 5Essentials Survey.

Thank you for your continued partnership.


Don White, Ph.D.

Communication #2 from Dr. White on Illinois School Report Cards:

Dear District 181 Families and Staff,

ttached to this memo is an important update regarding the Math Pilot, including news on a change in materials at both the elementary and middle school level. You can find our recent memos and further information about this topic on our website: > Learning > Math Pilot.

In other news, we want to alert you to tomorrow’s public release of State Report Cards, which include the results from the March 2014 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). We will be posting our reports on the District website tomorrow: > Learning > Assessment > State Report Cards. You will be able to find our reports and the reports from all Illinois public schools online at On that site and on our District website, you can also find the results from our teacher and middle school student participation in the 2014 Illinois 5Essentials Survey. Three of our schools (Elm, Madison, and Walker) had a high enough parent participation rate to generate a report on the parent data, as well. Though the state is not releasing that data as part of the Report Card, we have chosen to make that data available to the public on our website tomorrow, too (along with the teacher and student data): > Resources > IL 5Essentials Survey.

While the State Report Card is a helpful snapshot of a school and district, it is important to remember that we cannot look at one test score when assessing student achievement and growth. Rather, we must triangulate the data with other assessments, in-class work, and teacher feedback so that we have the complete story when considering how we can most effectively meet students’ academic needs. We must further consider students’ enjoyment and engagement in their educational experience. The school rankings released each year by some local media create comparisons based on select ISAT data, but they do not take into account these other critical factors.

For District 181, we include comprehensive data review as a critical component in the continuous improvement cycle. As we receive new information that can help guide our teaching, we also work to identify practices that are working well in our schools and share them across the District. We additionally hold ourselves accountable for areas needing improvement and identify practices that may not be working. That is the work our Department of Learning, School Leadership Teams, and teaching staff engage in throughout the year. 

It is important to note that the ISAT cut scores were raised from 2013 to 2014 to prepare students, staff, families and schools for the more rigorous Common Core standards. The assessment itself also included questions designed to better align to the new standards. We must therefore be cautious in drawing conclusions when making year-to-year comparisons in ISAT results. The new cut scores do not mean that our students know less than they did before or are less capable than they were in previous years. Instead, it means that the state expects a higher level of procedural and conceptual knowledge be demonstrated to meet and/or exceed grade level standards.

Lastly, we remind families that March 2014 was the last administration of the ISAT. During this 2014-15 school year, students in Grades 3-8 and high school students will take the PARCC assessment in English language arts and math. PARCC is aligned to the new standards and will be given online twice per year. It is designed to focus on growth over time in addition to achievement. After this school year, results of the PARCC exam will be represented independently from ISAT data on future Report Cards, with a brand new baseline for 2015. You can learn more about PARCC on our website: > Learning > Assessment.

No matter what changes are made to our state standards and assessment, our goal remains the same – to be a school district where all children experience success and grow in excellence.


The Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere: Part 2 -- D181 Needs a New Curriculum Map Maker

Now that we've spent the last couple of days posting stories about D181's endless journey down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, it is time to stop the laughter and giggles and get serious.

D181 is in trouble.

Our students and teachers have been led down a path that the administrators have argued is well intended, yet has resulted in poor student performance, chaos, inconsistency amongst schools, confusion, anger, anxiety, and self-esteem issues.  Although we believe the problems lie in multiple subject areas -- math, language arts, science -- the recent public outcry and administrative focus have been on the math curriculum.   So what did we actually "learn" at the October 27 Board Meeting about what the administration is going to do to address all of the math problems?  What did the Board of Education -- the public officials we elected to represent our interests -- discuss during the meeting?  What new information and specific plans did our new superintendent, Dr. White, and the Assistant Superintendent of Learning, Dr. Schneider, provide the community to assuage our concerns?

Everyone can go to the D181 website and listen to the podcast of the meeting.  In fact, we hope you all do, because ultimately, it is your responsibility to school yourselves up on issues that are impacting your children.  You can also all read the newspaper articles that provide short "factual" summaries of some of the hot topics that were discussed, such as the one that appears in this week's Hinsdalean titled "Math Pilot Concerns Relate Back to Learning for All Plan." So rather than summarize the 3 hour meeting in this post, we are just going to share some of our observations and conclusions and ask you to sound off.

1.  Were parents' math concerns proactively addressed by the administration? NO. Following one hour of impassioned public comments by no fewer than 17 parents, we would have expected Dr. White and Dr. Schneider to take at least a few minutes to directly address some of the questions asked. Instead, Dr. Schneider spent almost another hour during which he read from a prepared script and presented his skewed perspective of the district's curriculum history, followed by a 17 minute video highlighting yet another social justice expert's theories.   Dr. Schneider wrapped up his presentation with vague assurances that plans were in process to address the concerns. His scripted presentation did not provide any real specifics as to the future, other than stating that Agile Minds will be discontinued in the next week or so, a decision on whether or not to also discontinue Investigations would be delayed until further discussions with the teachers, and that more math materials were being ordered.

2.  The Blame Game: Dr. Schneider's script also included a laundry list of excuses and finger pointing (all away from him) to explain the reasons why there are so many curriculum issues.  He said more time is needed to implement all of the changes that were brought upon the district by Dr. Schuster, Dr. Moon's report (which he characterized as "insensitive"), the political "basket", Common Core and PARCC.  He also blamed administrative turnover and said none of the current Department of Learning administrators held their current positions when the Learning for All Plan was developed, never once acknowledging his "starring" role in its development, and the underlying social justice  theory that he introduced to D181. Dr. Schneider also said that everything had happened too fast and what is needed now is a slow down in the curriculum renewal cycle, clarification of the "vision," more professional development (that he said would require revisiting the idea of late start or early dismissal -- which the board previously rejected) and better mass communication to parents to explain all of the changes.

We were fascinated by Dr. Schneider's laundry list of  "to do's" and "requests for more time."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Emerald City? Heck, I Would Settle for Troy.

As we finalize Part 2 of our Post "Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere" (that we hope to post tomorrow), we have received the following comment by a "Concerned D181 Parent" asking us to publish as a free standing post.  The title of the comment caught our interest and we know you too will find the content compelling.

" Dear Bloggers:  I attended Monday's meeting and was so proud of the parents who spoke during public comment, bringing forward their concerns and questions.  I was, however, very disappointed in the lack of engagement I witnessed by the board majority and their willingness to accept the administration's excuses and requests for "more time" to fix the district's math mess, without any talk of holding any administrator accountable.  In particular I found Mr. Turek to be the weakest board president I have ever observed at a board meeting.  Please consider posting my comment as an individual post if you think it will be read by more of your readers.  I have been stewing ever since Monday night's meeting and have taken the time to jot down my own ideas.  I hope your readers agree with them.

In one of Don White's first emails to parents ( he states that he would like to see the district goal become the Emerald City. In a film context, this city is a mythical, magical, delightful place where its residents are happy and content. And while this may indeed be Don White's goal, the path to it is now convoluted and illusive. For within his first weeks as Superintendent, he promoted Kurt Schneider, whose background focuses entirely on Special Education, to head the Department of Learning. I have followed this blog, information posted on the D181 website and board docs, and in my opinion, it is clear that he is not qualified to hold this new position as his resume confirms he has limited to no experience in curriculum or assessment (Go to: Blogger's earlier post on Schneider, including his resume.). 

It is my opinion that the impact of this misguided decision is now being felt across the district as students have just completed about 20% of the school year, as one parent summarized at Monday's BOE meeting. Since Kurt Schneider took it upon himself to generate and explain (albeit with an occasional nervous laugh or mangiggle as he answered questions from board members) a list of 5 things that must happen in order for instruction to improve in the district, here is my own list of of 5 things that I believe must be done immediately to right the wrongs, if there is any hope for our childrens' education to improve: 
1. Since the superintendent's honeymoon has been cut short, he should now remove his sunglasses and put on a pair of bifocals so he can see up close the mess that is unfolding under his very eyes. Accountability begins at the top, and yes, this pathetic BOE troop has yet to hold any administrator accountable. But there is an election looming and the majority may flip in the community's favor so that Don White and his rag tags in the Department of Learning will be on the line to produce results. In order for this to happen, parents must step up to run for the board and immediately contact the Caucus. Time is running out, and we cannot allow Marty Turek to be re-elected or those who share his beliefs to be elected next year. Parents, please step up as there are four seats on the BOE open that must be filled with thoughtful, concerned parents who want to see the district improve.
2. By my count, approximately 80 people (parents, community members and administrators) showed up at Monday's meeting, and this was impressive and must continue. Our community cannot just sit back now and not be present at these meetings. If we have learned anything from the recent D86 events concerning the BOE and a potential strike, it takes a collective loud voice from the community to put pressure on the BOE to create change. And yes, many D181 parents spoke on Monday. But I believe parents will have to continue to speak up loudly and consistently if there is any hope for changes prior to the next election. 

3. If teachers continue to remain silent for fear of retaliation or dings on their evaluations, it will be up to parents to again voice concerns about this inclusive one-size-fits-all-social-justice-same-paced-limited-flexibly-grouped-sole-differentiated ideology. I believe Schneider was deceptive when he said teachers have not been told they couldn't use flexible groupings. Say what? Teachers were told 3 years ago that all classrooms were to become inclusive with no pullouts. Period. Ah, but wait. Some schools have bucked the trend and are ability grouping students this year. Yet another example of poor leadership on the part of Schneider and White, who appear to be comfortable with schools doing their own thing with no consistency among schools. 

4. Data must be produced and demanded by parents. Since Don White stated he reads all emails, parents should be writing to demand results. By now everyone knows that MAP results indicate some disturbing trends in 5th grade, as well as other grades. But where is the discussion from the administration or BOE? Turek's lack of leadership is alarming; remember, he sets the meeting agenda with White and could easily demand data and results but is failing to do so. The administration should produce a breakdown of results across schools, grades, quintiles, etc. This didn't happen under Schuster, and it looks like it won't under White unless parents put the hammer down and demand it. By the way, ISAT results and the state report cards are due to be published any day now.