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“progressive” education particularly hard on low-income students – River Forest D90 report card

River Forest District 90 reports doubling the academic achievement gap in English language arts (ELA) between low-income and non-low-income students between the years 2021 to 2023. Measures of district and student performance were shared in the recent publication of 2023 Illinois State Board of Education report cards.

The gap in Math between these two groups grew by 12% over the same period.

Rising achievement for non-low-income students and falling achievement for low-income students should be a warning sign to residents and district officials. Results contradict the “equal outcomes” wanted by board members and administrators implementing a 2016 policy that left most residents in the dark.

According to ISBE, “Students ages 3 to 17 meet the low-income criteria if they receive or live in households that receive public aid from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or TANF (Targeted Assistance for Needy Families); are classified as homeless, migrant, runaway, Head Start, or foster children; or live in a household where the household income meets (USDA) guidelines to receive free or reduced-price meals.”

The percentage of low-income students in River Forest has ranged between 3.7% and 5.9% since 2018, with the low occurring in 2023. Enrollment has ranged from 1477 to 1363 over the same period, the low also in 2023.

Other 2023 report card results were mixed for the district when comparing 3rd, 5th and 8th grades. There are two important events in understanding a sequential presentation of student proficiency: 1) policy-induced learning loss following 2016, and 2) setbacks due to extended remote-learning in 2020.

By 2023, white students more often regained proficiency lost when schools were shuttered in 2020. Hispanic students fared far worse in 2023 with lower achievement in all but one instance. The black student population continues to decline in River Forest leaving 2023 with no reportable data. Asian students performed better in some areas, worse in others, year over year.

For most groups, achievement in 2023 remained below achievement prior to policy-induced learning loss beginning in 2016.

District 90 Superintendent Ed Condon declined an invitation to comment on student achievement results. Instead, he returned an email pointing to district communications narrowly focused on 2023 Summative Designations. E3 will explore the illusory nature of these designations and community consequences for District 90 withholding detailed reporting.

Learning loss from remote teaching has had plenty of coverage, but what is policy-induced learning loss locally. A District 90 policy was penned in 2016 that produced a new curriculum director and “systems change” that involved adopting poorer performing curricula and instructional practices in grades kindergarten through 8th grade. One change was abandoning the curricula and instructional practices effective for teaching different lessons to a range of different ability levels within a grade and classroom, formerly known as Differentiated Instruction. Part of the coded language of “systems change” was re-defining “differentiated instruction” to mean using a range of instructional practices, such as games, video, or group work, to teach a singular lesson to a range of abilities. “After you child master’s the lesson, they will fold into the classroom and help teach” said then board president Ralph Martire.

Curriculum director Alison Hawley spoke to these changes at a recent District 90 board meeting saying “We want to make sure kids that go to this school are having one experience, and kids that go to this one are having a different one. We don’t want that, because it leads to uneven outcomes”. When asked about implementing "Balanced Literacy" at the March 2023 meeting, she added, “We wanted to make sure that the learning progressions across the grade were being taken care of horizontally, so across a grade level, and then vertically grade to grade”. The district hasn't offered explanation on Hawley's history of poor curriculum choices and withholding student achievement data from parents.

According to then D90 board president Ralph Martire, the 2016 policy would affect growth and achievement of River Forest students so they “comport” with a singular curriculum offering in freshman year at OPRF High School, a “de-tracking” policy Martire would implement in 2022 at OPRF HS D200 after leaving District 90.

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