District 65 talks academic growth with new accelerated math curriculum


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Education Center. The district will allow students to advance an extra year of math through tools including summer school and independent study.

Sheena Tan, Reporter

A new accelerated learning curriculum improved middle school math outcomes last year, but racial disparities in achievement persist, according to a Monday District 65 school board report. 

Since 2021, all District 65 middle school students have followed an advanced eighth grade curriculum, advancing the entire math curriculum one year beyond Common Core standards. Students may then choose to advance an additional year through many “double advancement” options, like summer courses or independent study.

District 65 students will take geometry going into ninth grade, with options to advance further to take Algebra 2 an additional year early. In the previous math curriculum, students eligible to advance an additional year of math going into high school were identified by test scores in fifth grade. The district said closing the advanced math track so early in a student’s academic career raised equity concerns. 

The decision to pursue an advanced math track aligns more with students’ planning and goal-setting patterns at the end of high school, said District 65 Director of STEM David Wartowski.

“The current system is allowing the decision to be made when students are more mature,” Wartowski said.

Overall student performance improved compared to the old curriculum and students expressed greater classroom satisfaction, with 46% more students this year rating their learning experience in math class positively. 

Wartowski said he was pleased to see positive student growth scores as the program emerged from a remote learning model.

Still, racial differences in student attainment persist under the updated math program, the district reported. Less than one-third of Black students and less than half of Hispanic students were at or above the 50th percentile in scores on MAP — a state standardized test which begins in kindergarten — whereas 85% of white students were. 

“We see the huge disparities by race,” Wartowski said, “This year is better than before, but not as good as last year. So there’s hope there and we need to do the work.”

Each day during an independent work segment of math class called “What I Need” time,  students choose from a tiered task list of varying challenge levels. The three self-selected groupings: “Pause and Build,” “More Practice” or “Deeper Dive” allow students to have more control over their learning pace. 

These changes aim to create a more equitable set of learning pathways and challenge students across the board, Wartowski said.

“(In) our former system, white students were 20 times more likely to access the most challenging spaces, because tests drove that and they did it in fifth grade,” he said.

The district’s goal is for every child to find “joy” in their math learning and to feel that they are good at math, Wartowski said. According to the report, students who experience WIN time regularly are more likely to consider themselves a strong mathematician or to say that they are excited about math. 

In a fall student survey, 79.3% of students said they had opportunities to engage in challenging work in their math class. More students overall also expressed feeling challenged this year than last year.

“In a pandemic, that’s just incredible to see,” said board member Sergio Hernandez. “These numbers are spectacular.

As the district continues to assess the curriculum changes’ results, Wartowski said the new model is “right in line with (D65)’s vision.” Though the racial disparity reflects a critical opportunity for improvement, the district said, the impact of making this curriculum fully equitable would be far-reaching.

“Excellence and equity are interwoven,” Wartowski said, “All boats can rise with the rising tide.”

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Twitter: @SheenaTan14

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