District 65 Academic Skills Centers improve grade level standards attainment, aim to expand


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Education Center. Academic Skills Centers around District 65, including here, are providing one-on-one tutoring to students scoring in the 26th through 50th percentile on state standardized testing.

Ilana Arougheti, City Editor

A new Evanston/Skokie District 65 program to bring individualized tutoring into the school day has seen success in the last year. 

Launched in July 2021, Academic Skills Centers at District 65 schools reported initial success with bringing student scores on state standardized tests at or above grade level standards, district representatives reported Tuesday night.

Students work with center tutors during part of their school day in small groups each trimester. They are eligible to work with the centers if they are in the 26th to 50th percentile for the MAP test, a state standardized test which begins in kindergarten. So far, most students attending the centers initially scored in the lower end of that range.

Donna Cross, director of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support and Social-Emotional Learning for the district, said it’s important students in this middle range experience personalized attention and build trust with teachers, which can be rare in larger classrooms. 

“What we’re hearing positively from students is, one, they like their tutor. They have a relationship with their tutor but they don’t have anyone else,” Cross said. “Two, they get attention that they normally don’t get.”

Cross said one major advantage of the Academic Skills Centers has been the ability for tutors to create individualized lesson plans for students. Tutoring takes place in groups of three to five students, focusing on those who need a little bit of extra support to catch up to grade-level standards. 

To date, staff at all 16 centers have created 790 personalized plans.

The district is particularly focused on utilizing the growing program as a resource to improve educational outcomes for Black and Latine students. 

In the second trimester of this school year, no Black students in an ASC program started the fall above grade level standards in math. By winter, 15% were attaining above grade level in math. 

In addition, Black students who were in an ASC program this fall or winter improved in math skills, making what the district refers to as “expected gains” at a higher rate than Black students outside of the program. 

Meanwhile, Hispanic/Latine students in a fall ASC program made anticipated improvements in language arts skills in fall and winter at a higher rate than their Hispanic/Latine peers who did not participate. 

All fall ASC students made “expected gains” in language arts skills in winter at higher rates than their non-ASC classmates, regardless of race. Cross said some students have advanced to the point where they no longer qualify for tutoring and started to cycle out of the program entirely.

While the impact of the pandemic on the program is certainly ongoing, District 65 Board Member Sergio Hernandez said the preliminary results from the last two trimesters are encouraging. 

“This is one of many strategies to make sure students have the supports they need…to realize their potential,” Hernandez said. “The kids that will get touched by the strategy are making these very dramatic gains, in attainment as well as gains academically.”

Centers at eight District 65 schools are currently fully staffed with five more at least halfway staffed, bringing the district up to 68% staffing capacity for the centers as of Monday night. The district hopes to reach 90% by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

As they continue to recruit staff, Board Vice President Elisabeth ‘Biz’ Lindsay-Ryan and Board Member Marquise Weatherspoon said they would like to see the program include modules teaching executive functioning skills like goal-setting and organization, especially as students begin to cycle out of the program. 

Lee Hart, the program’s Student Support Coordinator,said as more students in District 65 gain access to one-on-one tutoring, mixing academic goals and long-term skill-based goals will be crucial to help children meaningfully recognize their own progress.

“Being able to really get in and benefit from daily grade level instruction is really important for that individual child,” Hart said. “That will drive the overall wave to closing these long standing gaps that we’ve had.”

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Twitter: @ilana_arougheti

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