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

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. Why the difference in test scores among groups—even reading ?

    The latest and it seems for several years test scores point out something I've not heard anyone address.

    The schools say they need bilingual [English/Spanish are the only onces I hear of] because Hispanic born students need time to adjust to America and learn English and thus should not be expected to compare well with white or Asian students.  However the Hispanic students seem to always test higher than the black students.  Commentaries say those from different countries and native languages may do better [i.e. compared to white or Asian] in math because it is a universal language.  But then why are Hispanic reading scores above black scores ?

    Are the schools failing ? Are the economic levels different enough to account for this ?  Are parents doing something different—making children study more even if the language barrier makes it harder ? Are the schools and city programs not involving the parents or teaching them how to help their children—PBS recently had a program about one community that has a Parents "college" to help parents learn how to do so.  Are the wrong issues being focused on ?

    1. No one really knows

      I think the true answer to why there are such puzzling gaps, is that no one really knows. People will put forth theories based on supposition. Probably the true reasons are too complex for a simple magic bullet. D65 could do more intensive diagnostics of kindergarteners and first graders to determine if reading programs designed for reading disablitities, usually based on the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory methods, would be more appropriate than some of the programs currently used.

  2. Early childhood education is considered the key to success

    Educators will tell you that reading proficiency has nothing to do with race or income levels.

    It's largely a factor of the attention given to reading by parents almost from the moment of birth. Some parents begin reading to their kids the day they come home from the maternity ward.

    The "backward mapping" advocated by Superintendent Witherspoon and the other educators at the Joint Committee meeting involves setting up annual benchmarks from birth to high school graduation that would enable parents and teachers alike to determine the extent to which their kids need reading help.

    They implied that the earlier in life this process begins, the better. This is why early childhood educational programs are deemed to be so critical to the success of students. 

    1. Pre School Need

      Is the supposed need for preschool paid for by all TaxPayers anoth more clever way of saying DAYcare.   Seems the children would get more benefit with one on one PARENT TUTORING then dumping the child in a room with 20 or 25 other preschoolers.

  3. Back in my day…

    We constantly read of the need for all day kindergarten, and pre-school. When challenged, those in favor respond that it is needed in this competitive world and is most important for low income and/or minority children.

    Perhaps, but to anyone 60+ and probably younger than that, our experience was very different. I come from a rural town of 6,000. Most parents had only finished high school—many esp. fathers who had to farm or work only finished 8th grade. Wages were low [e.g. $65 p/w], the public library would fit in the EPL Loft—easily; the high school library was even smaller; most homes had few books. No book stores, the nearest university was 35+ miles away.

    Most/all parents did not apply the pressure that seems to exist today; teachers came from mainly teachers colleges–and many were not very good; and many parents could not help much with homework from grade five onward. You learned to count to 100 in 1st grade, in second grade you might learn very simple reading—like a comic book level; 3rd grade was the first time phonics and 'real reading' started. The 9th grade class had 10-20% children who went to one room country schools through 8th grade—some turned out to be top students.

    Yet over 50% of the students went to college including top schools like University of Chicago; continued through PhDs in sciences, became respected computer scientists, M.D.s, etc.. I bet if you transported anyone from such schools/towns who entered 9th grade in 1960 and put them in ETHS today, in one year they would catch-up.

    While extreme, I suspect transporting Einstein or Newton to ETHS would be similar but any number of people in history would be the same. Except for the problems pressure of pre-school [work and helicopter parents], most kids will catch-up. Maybe the problem is not not having full day kindergarten or pre-school but bad 1st to 12th grade schools and pre-school is an excuse.

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