The October 15th D97 Board meeting provided an update on student performance following curriculum and instruction changes made to their approach to Gifted, Talented and Differentiation (GTD) mainly in math. Oak Park’s elimination of advanced elementary math instruction is similar to that already implemented by River Forest District 90 and is aligned with new curricula planned for OPRF D200. Oak Park describes this as “increasing mathematics enrichment to all of its students.”
What change was made? The elementary schools (grades K-5) switched from using a math step-up program for GTD students to using an enrichment for all students approach. Previously, GTD students has access to “step-up” programs starting in third grade. Approximately 20% of students received GTD pull-out instruction above and beyond the differentiation students received in the classroom. Oak Park phased elimination of this step-up instruction, replacing it with an enrichment for all approach. Those demonstrating proficiency received in-class enrichment opportunities reflecting a change in curriculum and instruction. River Forest District 90 recently made a similar change swapping out a teacher-explicit math curriculum for one described as student-lead, along with eliminating advanced instruction in 4th grade. Changes in both Districts ring consistent with curriculum and instructional changes planned by OPRF high school.
Did Oak Park’s enrichment for all students increase growth? Overall, D97 reports no statistically significant difference in the new enrichment for all approach; however, numeric differences after two years create cause for concern. Third and fourth grade math GTD students saw clear declines in RIT math scores when switched to the enrichment for all program. Those not in GTD math produced RIT scores similar to performance in previous years (Slide 33). Student growth in math using enrichment for all was largely unchanged from previous years in low-income, African American and IEP groups. Although limited, these results suggest closer scrutiny may be necessary to ensure enrichment for all has the suggested effect on student learning.
What happened at the Board discussion on this topic? During public comments, several parents spoke letting the Board know their children served by the GTD program are not having their needs met. Others noted the lack of clarity in the program and the lack of racial equity in who qualifies for GTD. Then the meeting turned to Superintendent Carol Kelley’s formal presentation. She wanted to reimagine a system where all students can perform at high levels. She acknowledged that the recently-implemented program has not driven improvements in performance, but recommended extending it further to eliminate all remaining pull-outs from class, primarily providing enrichment for all. In addition, some students will be eligible for “acceleration,” meaning that they can skip a grade in one or multiple subjects, joining class with older students.
What does the “enrichment” curriculum look like? Enrichment would be for students already mastering the content being taught. In some cases, that might mean additional worksheets. In an informal discussion after the Board meeting, one parent noted that her child was watching educational YouTube videos in the hall outside class. Ultimately, this enrichment is designed to be student-led, as opposed to explicit instruction by a teacher, precisely because it is enrichment outside the standard curriculum and intended to allow differentiation across students.
What does the “acceleration” look like? Acceleration is skipping a grade, and it could be for one or multiple subjects. It could require being bused to a different school for one subject. Acceleration is already allowed, though there was some discussion about how it is not well-publicized. It would require students to pass tests on both subject matter and a psychologist-administered test with social-emotional content. The purpose of the psychologist-administered test was not described in detail, but it appeared to be to make sure the students are socially ready to be in an environment with older kids. There was no discussion of the idea that acceleration may better meet the academic needs of advanced students, but fail to meet their social/emotional needs. There was some discussion of needing to hire a psychologist, but not why or what that role would do.
It will be important to monitor the effects on growth and achievement of an enrichment for all approach to meeting the curriculum and instructional needs of all children.