D86 report card tells part of the story

Educators focusing on offering students more learning opportunities following pandemic

Declining SAT scores might be the headline when looking at the 2022 Illinois Report Card, but the picture of how high school students are faring academically is more complicated, said Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics in Hinsdale High School District 86.

SAT scores for Hinsdale Central students are actually up slightly in math from 2021 and down slightly in English/language arts, based on the percentages of students meeting and exceeding state standards. Covino noted these students spent one-fourth of their freshman year and all of their sophomore year in remote learning and didn't have as many chances to take practice tests.

"The last cohort is not in a great place," Covino said. "That makes perfect sense given what's going on in the world."

At the same time that SAT scores are lower, grades are remaining good or going up, he noted. But even that measurement has a caveat, as the state required schools to follow a "do no harm" practice in the spring of 2020 during the pandemic.

" 'Do no harm' meant everyone is frozen where they are and they cannot get worse and no one was held accountable," Covino said. "That has a compounding effect.

He argued against using the term "learning loss" to describe what happened during the pandemic.

"If the learning never occurred to begin with, then it wasn't lost," he said. "What we lost over that span of time was the opportunity to learn. They way we solve lost opportunities are by offering more and making sure every kid has something they can hang their hat on and drives them toward a future they can envision for themselves."

Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh said the report card contains many pieces of information, including the district's designation as an "exemplary" school.

"That doesn't mean there's not room for improvement," Walsh said. "I think that's what we look at - where are the gaps we need to address."

Those gaps might fall in the areas of behavior, SAT growth or attendance, he said. The report card shows chronic absenteeism in the district is up 122 percent. The district is using ESSR funds to pay support staff to work with students who have extended absences due to COVID or other reasons, Covino said.

He shared an anecdote he heard from an English teacher whose students were asked to read state statutes differentiating between first and second degree murder for an assignment. The students immediately went to Google for a summary of the statutes instead of reading the actual laws, which they said was too hard.

"We do need to reinvest in the sort of day-to-day walking through the paces of what doing rigorous school looks like and feels like," Covino said. "Rather than dwelling on learning loss, we should be focused on using our current data to determine how we springboard into learning recovery."

Walsh agreed, saying the goal is to challenge students to do more than they realize they can do.

The recovery mode is likely to last a couple of years, Covino believes.

"I don't think it's necessarily going to show up in test scores. It's going to show up in other measures of student engagement, most notably how often they are at school and engaged in course work."

He presented the report card data to the board last week as part of a 63-page report on students' academic performance.

"It's really easy to focus on a decline in SAT scores, but we have to look at that and measure that against all of the other data that is also showing kids are growing at a better-than-expected rate, that our support programs are functioning and serving the needs of students and that we have a growing number of opportunities for kids to accelerate and excel."

He pointed to comments from Miguel Cardona, U.S. secretary of education, that trends for the past eight to 10 years have shown declines in some standard measures of academic performance.

"The pandemic not only exposed but accelerated our moving toward something that was normal before," he said.

Walsh said educators are working to identify students who are struggling in two or more growth areas and offer interventions so they can do better on national exams and in life.

"Our teaching does not end. It does not end because of an assessment," he said.

"This year's report is a compilation of a lot of things going on in the world in schools in Illinois and across the nation," Walsh added. "I'm proud of our students. They are doing very well. We need to continue to challenge them and push them to do even better."

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean