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.


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