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  • The E3 Group

“wrong far too often to be useful”–Research describes River Forest District 90’s reading assessment

One researcher said about District 90’s reading assessment “flipping a coin would actually be better” for identifying struggling readers.  The new report by American Public Media (APM) suggests River Forest’s policy-induced learning loss from a debunked reading and writing curricula could have been masked by its choice of a “useless” assessment of the same. 


The popular reading assessment is called the Benchmark Assessment System or BAS.  It was developed by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell and sold by Heinemann, the same publisher of the debunked Lucy Calkins Units of Study reading and writing curriculum introduced as “balanced literacy” in District 90. 

In a July 2023 email obtained by E3, District 90’s Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction confirmed use of BAS as one of two “Building Level” assessments saying “Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Reading Assessment (K-6) - this is a 1:1 screener teachers use with students to assess decoding, fluency, comprehension, and the ability to self-correct when they misread or skip words. These records are kept by the Instructional Specialists and classroom teachers”.

River Forest residents regularly hear from district administrators their decisions are “evidence based”.  However, APM, the same agency producing the Sold a Story series on the Lucy Calkins curriculum, reported “Matthew Burns, a University of Florida special education professor, conducted the first peer-reviewed study of the BAS.  One of his studies showed BAS was able to distinguish between proficient and struggling readers only about half of the time.”

"So I could buy this test, train all my teachers to give it, take about 30 minutes per kid,” Burns said “Or really just have a teacher flip a coin for every kid, and they'll get it right just as often." 

The poor curriculum and instruction that began in 2016, combined with an ineffective assessment of student reading performance, appears a double whammy for residents relying on District 90 for reading instruction. 

Condon said recently the review will be “done through the lens of evidence-based reading instruction” and could lead to changes by 2025.  E3 is unaware of whether the review will also target improved reading and writing assessments. 

A survey circulated among River Forest residents asked the board of education to limit the influence of the Asst. Superintendent of Instruction on curriculum choices before her planned resignation at the end of the 2023-2024 school year.  


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