New assessment system is ‘a huge culture shift’

  • Written by Jessie Molloy

  The Community High School District 218 school board approved the 2013 tax levy at its meeting Dec. 16 and discussed the most recent results of its new district wide assessment system.
  With the first semester drawing to a close, the board’s director of data, assessment, and evaluation, Kathleen Gavin, gave a lengthy report on the results of the common unit assessment system.
  Although the system has been put in place gradually for the past four years, and district-wide semester finals have been in use since 2008, this is the first school year during which it has been fully implemented across all grade levels and subject areas. The common assessment system goes hand in hand with the district’s new grading policy and has been “a huge culture shift,” according to Gavin.
  The new system was designed to equalize the learning of students at all three district schools by having the teachers and curriculum directors collaborate on universal tests for use in each unit of the class. The new tests are a mix of multiple-choice and written exams which test both student knowledge and more practical applications of the material. Under the new grading system these tests represent 52 percent of students’ semester grades. An additional 20 percent of the grades is represented by the semester final, with the remaining 23 percent being made up by homework and additional assignments given by each individual teacher.
  This switch in focus by the district to a more unified curriculum was made, according to Gavin, “in anticipation of the switch to the common core standards and PARCC assessment tests [which will be given to freshmen and sophomores to determine No Child Left Behind funding] in Illinois.”
  In her report to the board, Gavin said that some areas are performing significantly better than other across the district. Some of the strongest areas of performance across the district were Honors English and all levels of Algebra, the latter of which she said makes sense. Freshmen math was one of the first subjects to be switched to the system and has had time to work out the problems other subjects are still facing. Despite less than spectacular results in some subject areas, Gavin was optimistic about the progress the system is making and praised the teachers and curriculum directors for their work creating and implementing the new tests.
  Gavin also said that an advantage of the system was its ability to target trouble areas across the curriculum and at specific schools to determine which topics may need more focus or to be re-taught before moving on. This, she said, will be particularly useful in the math and science curriculums where they have already been used to try uniting the teaching of overlapping pieces of the subject areas such as in physics and algebra.
  On average, each subject has taken four or five common exams so far which had its data analyzed so far. Results of the district finals will further add to the analysis when they come in next semester.
  After the curriculum discussion, District Business Manager Joseph Daley presented the resolution for the new levy which the board approved. The proposed new levy would total $79,607,426. This accounts for $3 million in new property and is 4.9 percent (approximately $3.7 million) higher than last year’s levy of $75,888,873. The fund receiving the largest piece of this increase is the education fund, which will be allotted $59,840,075. This represents a $2.8 million increase over last year’s levy.
  In his report to the board, Daley also said the board’s bond issue for the science wing expansion currently underway at Shepard High School raised $9.7 million dollars. The funds will be immediately sent to the working cash fund then to the construction budget. Although no estimated date of completion was stated at the meeting it was said that the construction at Shepard has been further delayed due to the extreme cold and snowy conditions.