A member of the District 202 Board of Education had a message Tuesday night for her counterparts from District 65 — you are sending us a lot of students who are not ready for high school.
In a board joint meeting, ETHS board member Gretchen Livingston said, “We have too many kids arriving at ETHS who can’t read at grade level.”
Because of that, ETHS has had to provide remedial literacy work, and even create a science class that incorporates reading skills required to understand the material.
While Livingston indicated it is critical that ETHS provide such support for students who are behind academically, she also asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if they were ready at a higher level when they came through the door?”
Statistics presented at the meeting indicated about 75 freshmen are receiving additional reading support, including about 60 who are in the reading-focused science class.
ETHS Board Vice-president Monique Parsons said she understood the need for extra help, but said “this is sad to me” that some kids are not at grade level entering ETHS.
Parsons said, “I don’t get excited about a literacy lab in high school…. This breaks my heart….”
District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton noted that 75 freshmen is about 10% of the students D65 sends to ETHS annually Considering the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, Horton said, that’s “pretty good data.”
Horton also indicated that changes are coming.
“We have been using a resource/curriculum that does not teach the science of reading,” he explained.
That curriculum has been in place for at least a dozen years, but new research and theories of learning, he indicated, are calling for something else.
So the district plans to adopt a new reading curriculum.
The D65 superintendent also said a number of recently-developed programs have helped raise student performance, such as Academic Skills Centers, tutoring that focuses on recovering pandemic-related learning loss.
As those students enter high school, it will be possible to track how each child does, to see if the D65 tutoring has had a long-term impact.
It’s also vital to start young, Horton said, so that perhaps a 5th grader won’t need tutoring if the child gets off to a good beginning at an earlier age.
D65 Board President Sergio Hernandez said that after the system implemented a strategic plan, kindergarten readiness among early childhood students (pre-K) jumped from 31% to 74% over a three-year period.
There is, of course, controversy in education over the use of standardized test scores. Preparation has often been described as “drill and kill,” but teachers and administrators have no choice but to take part. Those are the state’s rules.
Hernandez recalled that when he was a teacher, “we stopped teaching” to administer the standardized exams.
“I had kids crying. All I could do was test. I want to see this change.”
Which, of course, puts educators in a dilemma. They are required to take part in a standardized-test-driven reality which many of them question. Teachers say tests are needed, of course, to see where student improvement is needed. That’s one way to find out if, say, a student needs remedial reading as part of a science class.
But the “drop everything, it’s standardized test time,” and then the public emphasis on “which school is doing better” is, to some educators, counterproductive.
“Children are more than test scores,” Hernandez said.
“We need to expand the ways to measure academic and social-emotional success,” he said.
But that may be a long-term proposition.
District 65 board vice-president Biz Lindsay-Ryan said that new programs, the new D65 administration, and “incredible investments in equity” in the elementary and middle schools should “yield improvement” over several years.
But things like “it will take some time” have been heard before.
For now, the pressure is on to get those test scores up.
District 65 board member Joey Hailpern said “I get that we need to manage change. I get that there was a pandemic.”
“But kids only get one school experience,” Hailpern added, saying there needs to be a “sense of urgency.”