District 65 Board of Education discusses support for students with IEPs, English Language Learners


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Joseph E. Hill Education Center. The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board discussed efforts to support students with IEPs and English Language Learners at a Monday meeting.

Aviva Bechky, Print Managing Editor

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education discussed efforts to support students with Individualized Education Programs — which ensure students with disabilities receive necessary services — and English Language Learners on Monday.

The number of students with disabilities in the district has “steadily increased” over the last 10 years, according to a memo from Director of Individualized Education Services Anna Marie Candelario and Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Romy DeCristofaro.

At the meeting, Candelario said Black students in the district have historically been disproportionately diagnosed with emotional disabilities, but the disparity has recently lessened. However, Black students with disabilities remain more likely to be placed in “restrictive settings” than non-Black students with disabilities, Candelario added.

Going forward, she said she hopes to implement several strategies to improve the district’s support of students with IEPs.

“By involving parents and union representatives in (the) development of inclusion policies and practices, providing training and support for teachers and staff, involving students with IEPs in decision-making, we can create a more inclusive and supportive school environment,” Candelario said.

The percentage of ELL students with IEPs also increased slightly since the 2021-22 school year, her memo said.

Candelario said she’d like to ensure student interventions and assessments are readily available in both English and Spanish.

“We need to target implicit bias in our assessments and decision-making processes in which school personnel evaluate our students; better access to appropriate interventions in both English and Spanish; and targeted professional learning for our bilingual special educators,” she said.

She added that family feedback has indicated the district’s services are improving, though the district received only 154 responses to a survey sent out.

Board member Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan pointed out that District 65’s overall enrollment has been declining. It’s projected to continue the trend for at least the next five years.

“If we’re having less students overall, but a higher percentage of them with needs, what does that mean for our staffing?” Lindsay-Ryan said.

Board Vice President Soo La Kim said implementing the Universal Design for Learning model, which highlights teaching practices that work for all learners, will be important for addressing staffing and support needs.

Superintendent Devon Horton acknowledged District 65 still needs to work on centering inclusion and families rather than seeing students through a medical lens.

“There’s an implementation dip that we’re experiencing,” Horton said. “It’s new work. We’re trying to find ways to be really collaborative with our educators to make that change.It’s been a battle.”

On recent Measures of Academic Progress tests, Multilingual Program Director Amy Correa said former English learner students performed slightly better than general education students. Fewer students in Transitional Bilingual Education or a Transitional Program of Instruction, however, placed at or above the 50th percentile.

Correa pointed out these results are in line with research showing it takes five to seven years to become fully bilingual.

Board President Sergio Hernandez said he’s excited by the success of former ELL students.

“When they get out after the five-to-seven years it takes to develop the language, we are surpassing the academic performance of general education students,” Hernandez said.

Correa said she’d currently like to prioritize support for long-term English language learners — students who’ve been in the district for five or more years who aren’t yet proficient in English — through increased progress monitoring and professional learning for administrators and educators.

Among other initiatives, Correa said, District 65 is also working to train educators in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, a framework to help non-ELL certified teachers integrate language development into their lessons.

“We believe and are committed to provide all ESL students with the necessary skills to not only learn English, but to value their home language as they are an integral part of this community and add to the richness of who we are,” Correa said.

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Twitter: @avivabechky

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