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School boards weigh literacy campaign

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A committee of board members and administrators of Evanston’s two school districts considered the possibility of waging a joint effort aimed at raising the literacy level of its students.

Specifically, the goal would be to “increase the percentage of students who possess strong literacy skills and are able to complete challenging coursework and meet college and career readiness standards,” according to a working draft that was discussed by the committee.

The Joint District 65-202 Board Committee that convenes regularly throughout the school year met at the District 65 headquarters Wednesday morning, with District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki presiding.

Among the board attendees were Katie Bailey, Claudia Garrison, and Constance Chow from District 65 and Gretchen Livingston and Jonathan Baum from District 202.

They were joined by key administrative staff members that included District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and District 65 Chief Administrative Officer Barbara Hiller, who is serving in that capacity this school year, pending the hiring of a new superintendent to replace Hardy Murphy, who resigned in August.

Witherspoon suggested that the committee narrow its focus to that of reading proficiency, in that many students find the increased demands of work at the ninth grade level to be a shock after their elementary and middle school experiences.

Witherspoon recommended the districts engage in “backward mapping” of reading skills from high school graduation “back to birth.”

Essentially the committee agreed that reading proficiency begins the day a child is born and that the schools need to determine a series of annual indicators that will bring their students up to college and career readiness by the time they graduate from the high school.

Hiller said that because state testing is “changing dramatically” that the indicators used in the mapping process ought not to be wholly dependent upon scores on specific standardized tests.

Committee members noted that, in the early years, the focus tended to be on the quantity of reading, such as a certain number of minutes or a certain number of pages a day, while as they advance towards high school, the demands shift to the quality of material read.

While much of the material read in the earlier years is selected by the student, the shift in the later years is towards specific books or short stories.

Baum said there is a difference between what students are reading and what they are discussing in class and that for discussion to be meaningful, all class members need to be reading the same material.

The committee set its own goal to consider a more structured procedure of annual reading benchmarks for consideration at its June meeting.

Charles Bartling

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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