Parents of bright math students in the Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools have been pressing the new administration for better pathways to acceleration for their kids, but administrators are not sure that skipping a course is the right way to do it.

Jesch Reyes, one of Superintendent Paul Goren’s first hires when he came aboard last summer, presented an update of their latest thinking on the subject at a recent School Board meeting, but was faced with some skepticism on the part of some board members.

For next year, at least, students who meet certain minimum requirements will be able to skip a year, but the data on course-skipping is far from conclusive about whether students will suffer from missing some of the content in the course they skipped.

This is particularly critical in that students are now expected to meet the criteria of the Common Core State Standards of Mathematics.

The new measurements that come with the Common Core process put a premium on ensuring that students not only have command of the course they skipped to, but also of the course they skipped over.

An analysis of the data indicates that “many students would have been better served if they did not skip a math course,” Reyes wrote in a memo to Goren and the board.

Reyes, director of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education for the district, met with a group of math-concerned parents last July on his first day on the job. The parents had organized themselves on the internet under the banner, Math Matters.

Their leader and founder, Jennifer Phillips, subsequently won a spot on the board in the spring elections, and has been pressing for improvements in the math course sequence.

After meeting with parents and math teachers all school year, Reyes is recommending that course-skipping be continued next year for those students who meet the criteria, but that in future years the district develop “compacted” courses that would, in effect, concentrate two years of math into a one-year course.

“This will ensure that students will learn the most important topics and will more readily access advanced mathematics learning without having content gaps,” Reyes said.

Therefore, he added, “the 2015-16 school year will be the final year of acceleration as course-skipping.”

When pressed on the subject by the board, however, he admitted that in some special circumstances, a student might still be allowed to skip a course, even in later years.

While the board was focused on data, such as test scores, Phillips suggested that an equally meaningful piece of data would be a survey of students who have skipped a course to determine if they felt it was helpful to them.

Goren said he thought that was a good idea.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Decisions without data

    The problem with the decisions Mr. Reyes and the administration are making is that they are making them up as they go along. When pressed on the subject by the board it became clear that there isn't enough data on which to make the decisions, and, furthermore, that the data were manipulated to fit what the numbers of students the administration wants to have in accelerated programs. More disappointing still is that a group of teachers, one of whom should have recused herself from the discussion in my opinion, said that "40% of the students in accelerated math" were struggling. It later became clear that the 40% figure was purely anecdotal. Furthermore the district should not abandon these and future students because they are "struggling" but should make the effort to support them. If they are struggling we should work together to find a way for them to accelerate to the appropriate level, not merely let them maintain at grade level. The administration says they will be "differentiated" and challenged in their classes but I find that disingenuous because a) enrollments at virtually all D65 schools are up and it is hard to imagine teachers will be able to engage in differentiation in a meaningful way (preferring, it seems to implement technology for the purpose rather than add teachers, and to put kids in front of screens in the name of differentiation), and b) the administration is most interested in reaching Common Core standards and is putting resources toward that purpose rather than hewing to its (seemingly empty) "Every Child, Every Day, Whatever It Takes" slogan. The slogan ought to be "To Mediocrity, And Beyond!" In an era in which everyone acknolwedges the value of early STEM education D65 is decelerating in that area, in the face of research that shows erly acceleration to be quite successful. What will ultimately happen is that parents of children who ought to be accelerated to most any degree will find alternative schools, whether private or in another district, or may even opt their kids out of PARCC. That'll reduce enrollment but it'll also reduce the schools' and district's averages. 

    1. It is not either/or
      There are at least several levels of students that need to be considered for skipping grades or subject levels.
      Some may be able to move ahead but need some help, at least sometimes. They may need good teachers/tutors to fill gaps without having to go through a whole course or section.
      Some can make up for any gaps/questions on their own if good books are available at school, EPL or NU, or if they have a well educated parent for friend.
      Others may be able to not only excel and resolve any questions on their own and even be able to get beyond the level of their teachers or any high school teacher and need/get university help.
      These last two groups should be allowed to skip a course or even grade or be given supplemental work to keep them interested and progressing—i.e. same course but much more advanced work.

      It seems the administration wants ‘lock-in’ policy from their ‘assumptions’ instead of understanding their is a diversity of students.

      This discussion does not address the avoided issue of tracking—at multiple levels. I come from a community that had ‘one room schools’ [I did not attend one] through 8th grade. Older students helped younger students and teachers knew how to keep even the best students interested.
      When they moved to high school they were some of the best students. Yes times and technology have changed things and these students mostly lived on farms and had chores and could not run into town for every event, so they had more time to study

      1. Class size and offering alternatives
        See WTTW Chicago Tonight segment ‘A Charter School [Intrinsic] Model Different from Most’ June 15,2015. A charter school that has large classes by choice. Multiple subjects and levels [and flexible progression] are taught in same room.

  2. d65 wants tracking?
    Offering accelerated pace math courses sounds like a lot more work for District 65 than simply allowing some kids to skip a level. They will have to develop new lesson plans and deal the the politically sensitive issue of tracking, which D65 has always avoided. If someone looks at the racial composition of accelerated math classes and decides they are unhappy with it, how will the district respond? I trust the district is recommending what they thing is best for students, because what they are proposing is difficult for them, and will probably be controversial if it is implemented.

    1. What we observed was that a
      What we observed was that a very large group of parents send their children to special math programs and tutoring so that when they take the Fall middle school test they place into advanced math or are selected to jump a grade. At our child’s middle school, much more than half of the kids who placed into the top 5th grade math class fit into this category. Actually, we don’t know anyone in the top class who did not take additional math.

      For very bright kids left in the regular tract the math class was awful and that is not a criticism of the instruction. It moved at far too slow a pace. The teacher encouraged our child to spend time on Khan Academy and also told our child how to prep for the exam.

      The previous administration did not have a solution to what is a fairly complex problem. And this administration doesn’t either.

      Math is hugely important as a predictor of future academic and professional accomplishment. Much more investment (time and resources) has to go into this area.

      1. Is the problem that complex?
        I think the problem has been lack of tracking. That was not a priority for the last administration, but the new one sounds like they are proposing it. Putting students in classes that move at the right pace for them would greatly reduce the need to go outside of the school to really learn math. I *never* went outside of my school to learn math and ended up with a master’s degree in it. From middle school on up there was always tracking and I think I got the right level of challenge every year through high school.

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