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Summit Hill officials at odds over student assessment data

Another review of Summit Hill District 161’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams became the subject of debate between two officials during a Nov. 8 regular meeting.

Board President Rich Marron took exception to Board Member Joy Murphy’s characterization of the district’s performance level.

“One neighbor and one friend called [me,] and they were extremely concerned about the scores [compared to local elementary feeder school districts,] that they are so low,” Murphy said. “It’s OK to be first [and,] it’s OK to be second, but we’re pretty low, and everyone’s taking the same test, so I don’t know just what is going on? Why is this happening?”

Marron disagreed and went on to say that it is not fair to describe District 161 as performing low.

“We’re at the 50-percent mark of Will County and above the 50 percent in the Lincoln-Way [area,]” he said.

Composite scores from the Illinois Report Card website shows that 40 percent of the District’s students met or exceeded the Common Core State Standards, which demonstrates consistency from 2017 to 2016. Data goes on to highlight that 34 percent of them were approaching the benchmark to be considered ready for the next grade level, while 26 percent were either partially meeting or did not meet that threshold.

“We used to be No. 1,” Murphy said. “Summit Hill was No. 1 in the county.”

Murphy referenced a news article recently published in the Daily Southtown and said Summit Hill is performing lower than it had when her children were enrolled in its schools.

Marron questioned Murphy’s recollection and said the data the district has shows a more accurate depiction.

Director of Curriculum John Snipes tried to lessen the concern raised by Murphy.

“One thing I did with the help of the curriculum council of some of the feeder districts—we network regularly—we looked at … all the Will County school districts, and that puts Summit Hill smack dab in the middle,” he said. “If that gives you any reassurance, we’re not the last [and] we’re not the bottom. We always look at the state level, too, and we’re tracking slightly above the state, so we like to be there or above.”

Snipes said the results show that Summit Hill places in line with two elementary school feeder districts in the Lincoln-Way area.

“I think we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “We’re all hovering in that 40 percentile area.”

The Board of Education previously examined the results of preliminary student assessment made available to them at its Sept. 13 meeting. Around that time, the data on performance levels in English language arts showed that 44 percent of D161 students meet or exceed Common Core State Standards, which is 7 percent higher than the state average, whereas 36 percent meet or exceed those standards in mathematics, which is five percent higher than the state average. That data remained steady for D161 and the state moving from the 2015-2016 academic year to 2016-2017.

Since that time, the English language arts and math committees have met to work on aligning the curriculum and focus standards across grade levels, staff presented building administrators with additional PARCC reports to provide information about specific standards, giving them a snapshot of what areas are more and less difficult for grade levels, members of the multi-tiered systems of support teams reviewed available PARCC and Standardized Testing and Reporting data to drive school improvement plans, and the District continued to communicate with the five elementary feeder school districts.

“I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of our staff at Summit Hill School District 161,” Snipes said. “Our staff members, our teachers, our students and their families, while I don’t believe you’ll find anything negative or surprising in our data review, please understand it’s hard to capture everything that goes into an entire year by looking at one test, the PARCC test.”

Several members of the Board Education agreed that District 161’s PARCC results do not represent the culture and climate at Summit Hill schools.

What’s more is uncertainty for PARCC’s future in the State of Illinois looms as its contract expires this year. Summit Hill schools will administer the assessment in the spring of 2018, though it is unclear what form of testing is to be selected moving forward.

Marron questioned if the PARCC results serve as reason for Summit Hill officials to be concerned.

“I’m not panicked, but I look at Frankfort [School District 157-C] with excitement when you see how far ahead they are, but then we look at what they’re implementing,” Snipes said. “That’s our next step. What are they implementing to make such a drastic change over the last three years? And, is that something we’re prepared to implement, as well, whether it’s culture and climate shift, new programs, new curriculum, additional staff, it could be a number of things.”

Board of Education approves decrease in extracurricular fees

To encourage greater participation in extracurricular activities, Summit Hill officials agreed to lower fees assessed to families from a $50 maximum to $20.

The idea was first raised by Marron at the board’s Oct. 30 meeting, at which point he suggested $10.

Board Vice President Stacey Borgens took a moment to praise the suggestion that aims to make extracurricular activity fees more affordable to the District’s families and went on to say that decreasing the amount as low as $10 still concerns her.

“We’ve had a hard time in the last few years finding people to sponsor activities,” she said. “I have a feeling—and maybe I’m wrong, and I’m happy to be wrong on this one—but I think if we took it as low as $10, we might see a really large increase of students who want to participate, but we may not have the amount of sponsors [to lead extracurricular activities,] and so, therefore we’re getting those children’s hopes up, but then we’re taking them away. I don’t want to see that happen, and I don’t want to put an overburden on our staff members, whether it be making them feel guilty or like they have to take on more than what they already have.”

Borgens suggested that District 161 establish the extracurricular fees at a $20 maximum and review the decision the following year, if the board comes to a consensus to approve the reduction, to gauge the extent to which participation changes and invest money to increase the pool of sponsors.

Board Member George Leonard said if any money, whether it be $10 or $20, stops a student from getting involved, he thinks the activity fee is wrong.

“I’m big proponent of activities, and I’ve seen what it can do for kids,” he said. “I understand why maybe a $10 fee helps with the responsibility of it and making sure the kids have permission forms and all that stuff, but I want to see a huge spike because that means our fees were wrong. So, I hope that we see no spike, that $50 wasn’t keeping kids away from the activities. But if we do see a spike, then we did do a good thing, here, by reducing them to as little as we can.”

Borgens agreed and went on to say that there is a process by which fees can be waived.

“I also disagree with just the process of that, that I have to fill out a waiver,” Leonard said.

Leonard suggested that fees be cleared automatically for students eligible for free/reduced lunch and make it clearer to families that waivers are available.

Marron said trying to find a middle ground is important.

In a 6-0 decision, the Board of Education came to a consensus to approve a $20 maximum fee for student participation in extracurricular activities, leaving room for further review the following year. Board Secretary David Faber abstained from the vote.

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