Program Changes: FAQs
The administration thoroughly reviews and considers the input and questions from community members. This page contains answers to questions we've received about the proposed program changes.
Why are you making changes to the TAP program?
The current reality of student performance in District 109 is far different than it was when TAP was implemented nearly a decade ago. The proposed program and educational changes will allow us to best meet the needs and abilities of our student body, and take advantage of the outstanding skills of our teachers and staff. The students in our schools are working at significantly higher levels than peers throughout the rest of the state and nationally. All of our data from local assessments such as the MAP test and from state assessments such as PARCC support this claim. Our teachers are differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students, and raise their achievement.
On average, half of District 109 students at every grade level are at or above the 90th percentile as measured on nationally normed assessment measures in both math and English language arts (ELA). This means that more than half of our students at every grade level are in the top 10% of student performance on a national level, or, more than half of our students perform better than 90% of all students in the country. Furthermore, 75% of our students across all grades are, on average, in the top 25% of students nationally.
Currently, 10%-12% of students are in TAP programming (about 30-36 students across the District in each grade level). Yet, we have more than 150 students at each grade level working at or above the 90th percentile as a result of our educational improvements and increased differentiation over the past few years.
We have far more students who should have access to the services of TAP teachers or other advanced learning specialists, and the learning opportunities that they provide. In order to expand access, we must change the structure and function of our programs.
These changes will not remove advanced programming, but will expand access to advanced educational opportunities to more students.
If you expand access aren’t you watering down the program?
No. We expect the same high level of challenge and rigor, we just are implementing it with a greater number of students. This is a win-win situation. There is no data that shows including more students that are able and capable takes away from anyone else.
Students in the general education programs with near or same performance levels are growing at rates as fast if not higher than that of those in TAP. All of our students have been making monumental growth due to the changes in place since 2013.
Isn't TAP a gifted and talented program?
No. TAP is an advanced curriculum program for approximately 10-12% of students. A true gifted and talented program serves approximately 1-3% of students; the District does not have such a program in place.
So how is the District going to serve the 1-3% of truly gifted students?
Over the next year, the District will work with outside experts in gifted education to answer this exact question. We will review numerous models, including self-contained, multi-age programs, and full-grade acceleration.
We do know that we will create Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) for these students beginning next year. ILPs take into account each student’s needs - both academic and social emotional.
How will the 1-3% of students be identified?
This spring, we will develop criteria for identifying gifted students. We will use a multiple-measures approach that may include academic assessments, WISC intelligence scales, CogAT, interviews with the child and their parents, and more. It is possible that this process will include student services departments at each school to identify the students and the best way to meet their needs.
It’s important to recognize the number of students in this group. If we identified a full 3% of 5th graders, about ten 5th graders across all four of our elementary schools would be in the program.
The point of this initiative is to differentiate between high achieving students and those who are showing exceptional abilities, performing significantly above all other peers in the grade level.
I heard that the changes to TAP are being rolled up - can you explain that?
We are phasing in all changes to our TAP programming a year at a time so that students currently in TAP will continue with that program. Next year, the elementary changes will take place in 3rd grade; middle school ELA changes will only impact 6th grade. (However, we will roll up the changes we already made in accelerated math in grade 6 to grade 7.) We want to make sure we provide support for these changes as we move along. Our intent is that over the next few years, we will have successfully transitioned all programming after a measured and thoughtful approach.
What are the changes to middle school world language?
The middle schools will no longer offering language in 6th grade; that time will be used in classes with curriculum to support-social emotional learning and transitions for students to middle school. Over the next few months, our student services department will plan all details of the new program and its implementation.
In 7th and 8th grade, the middle schools will continue to offer Spanish and French, and expand language opportunities for students by adding in Hebrew and Mandarin. The goal is to align District 109 programming with Deerfield High School. We will match the DHS offerings so as to not leave any students out of the opportunity to take the highest level class offered in any language in high school. However, there must be sufficient interest to run a class.
Were the changes voted on by the Board, and is further parent input allowed?
In general, program changes do not require Board approval. Since these particular changes required staffing changes, the Board was asked to take action. Parents and community members always are welcome to provide input. Through the strategic planning and program review processes, the District received an enormous amount of feedback from parents, staff, community members and students. These changes took that input into consideration.
Why are you recommending to eliminate elementary Spanish?
We recognize that early learning of languages is highly effective. However, the structure of our current elementary programming does not support language learning. Please realize that the teachers of the program are wonderful!
Our elementary Spanish students receive instruction for 30 minutes only twice a week. This is substantially insufficient for any meaningful language instruction. An ideal program for language learning is a full immersion program where instruction is part in English and Spanish for the entire school day. For District 109 to implement a substantial early language learning program, we would need to commit to our students being instructed in Spanish in grades K-8 for at least 40 minutes a day, five days a week. Spanish would essentially be a core subject such as math, ELA, science, and social studies, and would require substantial reductions in other areas of our programming such as reductions to elementary specials such as art and music.
Expanding the elementary Spanish program was an option the administration considered. However, we felt that the necessary commitment needed to ensure all our students had an opportunity for true and meaningful language learning and bilingual opportunities was not the appropriate course at this time.
We fully support language learning and we believe that students beginning to learn a 2nd language in 7th grade still provides them the opportunity to achieve language fluency in the language of their choice by the end of high school.
What are you proposing instead of elementary Spanish?
The administration proposes that we hire a full-time teacher for each of the four elementary SmartLabs™. Students will attend the SmartLab for 60 minutes a week and do a variety of project based learning activities, as well as computer science/coding. In student engagement and other surveys, more than 80% of District 109 students requested more computer science education in their school day.
In addition, we also will take this opportunity to realign many of our elementary specials offerings. We will be adding an extra day of PE each week for all K-5 students. Currently, K-5 students attend PE only two days a week. Our students will get more exercise and physical education, and our District will be compliant with new state laws that require three days a week of PE.
We also will move the library to a more flexible schedule. Students will no longer have a 30 minute “library special.” Instead, each Library Information Specialist will have flexibility to work with grade levels on more extensive projects such as research projects that may require more than 30 minutes. The library will also be freed up for more classes to be in the space at the same time. Students all will continue to have regular time to check out books.
Can you clarify the elementary TAP changes?
What is happening with middle school TAP?
A better question might be: “What is middle school TAP?” Middle school TAP is offered in both math and ELA. In ELA, TAP is a separate course known as Seminar. In math, TAP is simply an advanced course pathway for students to complete high school geometry by 8th grade.
Changes for ELA: We are proposing a Seminar for All approach for middle school ELA. Again, this is driven by the fact that we have many more students who can be successful in advanced educational programming. Our only legitimate option to address the actual needs of our students is to raise expectations across the ELA curriculum for all students. Keep in mind, the District 109 student in the local 25th percentile, performs at the same level as the the national 75th percentile student. Our middle schools will have only one advanced, rigorous pathway for students in ELA.
How about those students at a higher level - when will students at a higher level work with other students who work at their own level?
Everyday. Teachers already allow students enormous flexibility in book choice and group choice; this flexibility will continue to be ingrained in each and every classroom - and even increase.
Changes For Math: Math, and the standards for math, are much more concrete than ELA. There are students ready to learn Algebra and students ready for Geometry. Our data and experience indicates that many more students than we currently identify can be successful in the geometry (TAP) pathway and all students can be successful in the accelerated pathway.
So, we will have two math pathways: accelerated and advanced, and we will name math courses based on the content covered (pre-algebra, algebra I, geometry, etc.).
We will identify students for either a geometry (advanced) pathway or algebra I (accelerated) pathway based on ability and readiness for math. We will use a combination of MAP, PARCC, and the Orleans-Hanna Algebra Readiness assessment to determine placement. The District will no longer assess all students with CogAT, and we will only use the Orleans-Hanna assessment when needed.
The District will provide more students access to the math courses they are ready for and are able to be successful in. This spring and summer, will will plan the specifics such as teachers and scheduling.