Illinois Center for School Improvement April 2018 e-newsletter

From the Executive Director

Spring is in the Air

do not know about you, but I am excited that spring is here! I hope that you are planning to (or already enjoyed) the opportunity to recharge in order to finish the school year strong. As educators, we often move into spring with a renewed commitment to deliver the best education to students as we plan for the end of one school year and start planning for the greatness of the next. This commitment pushes us to foster rich partnerships between administrators and teachers through a collaborative process that invites all voices to the table to celebrate the successes and address the needs of schools, teachers, and the center of our work, students.

As you are moving toward a more productive school environment, the Illinois Center for School Improvement (Illinois CSI) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is doing the same. Our statewide teams are partnering with districts and schools to support the leaders of t

hese organizations as they drive their own transformations. Our partnership remains focused on serving the best interest of Illinois students through a reflective and diagnostic look at adult practices. Feedback gathered from the Illinois State Board of Education’s External Evaluation of the Illinois Statewide System of Support from January 2017, prepared by Measurement Incorporated, provides evidence of the results of our collaboration:

  • 96% of districts receiving Priority services reported that they have higher functioning district leadership teams as a result of their collaboration with Illinois CSI.
  • 92% of districts receiving Priority services reported that Illinois CSI had improved its ability to analyze data and identify root causes affecting attainment of desired goals for all students.
  • 92% of districts receiving Priority services reported that working with Illinois CSI has improved their ability to monitor implementation of the improvement plan.
  • 86% of districts receiving Priority services reported that they had acquired instructional materials and resources from Illinois CSI that are better aligned with the new Illinois Learning Standards.
  • 82% of districts receiving Priority services reported that teachers have improved their ability to use data to make informed decisions about their instruction as a result of working with Illinois CSI.
  • 83% of districts receiving Focus services reported that Illinois CSI helped them identify evidence-based strategies and interventions to improve student achievement.

We have weathered an unpredictable winter, but spring will come with brightness, warmth, and the ability to look ahead to the next leg of our collective journey.

Best regards,
Betheny Lyke, EdD


District Highlights

Roxana Community Unit School District (CUSD) 1
Fewer Initiatives, More Rigor! Reducing Initiatives While Increasing Teacher Expertise and Classroom Rigor Through a Scaffolded and Measurable Framework

Illinois CSI at AIR began its engagement with Roxana CUSD 1 in spring 2016. As a result of its needs assessment through AIR’s Intentional Data Review (IDR), the district assistance team guided its support of four focused district improvement plan goals. One of those goals stated that Roxana will “examine and audit current initiatives, including the intervention system, with the goal of reducing the breadth and providing focus and coherence to improve student achievement in mathematics and English language arts.” Illinois CSI at AIR has worked closely with Roxana’s district leadership team in self-reflection and has asked pointed questions about the process underlying the introduction, support, and collection of evidence regarding initiatives. The following provides a glimpse of successful school improvement efforts occurring in Roxana. This transformation in leadership and practice began with an engaging and probing dialogue between Illinois CSI at AIR and district administrators, grounded in our beliefs in the strength of an embedded, evidence-based data culture and monitored feedback loops to support increased academic achievement. It takes strong and reflective leaders who are willing to question the status quo, trust in professional relationships, and provide guidance to make transactional changes in how school improvement occurs in districts. Roxana is a model in how long-standing practices can evolve and change when guided by a combination of sound research and persistent inquiry. Illinois CSI at AIR is proud to have taken part in the launch of this work in Roxana and excited to be witnessing a wave of success in school improvement.

The Story
As an assistant superintendent and external consultant, I am fully aware of the initiative overload crippling much of public education. Despite that awareness, I failed to see the forest for the trees. After a district leadership team (DLT) meeting, administrators and district assistance team members from Illinois CSI at AIR were discussing the reduction of initiatives, best practices, and the lack of systemic academic growth. Although I argued that the majority of what we had implemented in our district was simply best practice and could not be ignored, the following question was posed by Illinois CSI at AIR: “Yes, but which of those initiatives, although all best practice and supported by research, have been implemented to sustainability by at least 90% of the district—with fidelity?”

Even as I continued my defensive stance (with Dr. John Hattie’s research at my side), my knees were weakening. I knew the answer; it was ZERO/NADA/ NONE! I had relentlessly preached “Know Thy Impact” but could not point to my own. Had we squandered the past 8 years?

After my defenses had crumbled and I sat alone with my failures, I began to obsessively reflect on MY actions and what WE could do as a district to address this question. I now owned my impact (or lack thereof) and was far from satisfied. I had recruited a “tug of war” team and tethered them to titanic opposition, and although I could point to progress in pockets, systemically I watched my team losing ground—and systems is my job!

We had three core goals for the implementation of cycles:
1. Improve administrative focus and follow-through while reducing staff initiatives.
2. Scaffold professional learning while differentiating staff support.
3. Transform classrooms into student-led learning environments through a focus on the highest effect size best practices.

When we unveiled our “initiative to reduce initiatives” (How’s that for irony?), we were met with the usual skepticism. This time, however, the meeting ended differently. We informed staff that we were no longer focused on a litany of laborious initiatives but instead on “pulling in unison” to see measurable progress in implementing improvement cycles, one at a time. Professional development (PD) would be scaffolded, and the learning would start with more transactional practices and “depth of knowledge” tasks, which reminded us of the value in the basics. This laid the foundation for subsequent cycles that were inherently transitioned toward more transformational practices. We committed to remaining focused on each cycle until 90% or more of the staff were pulling in unison, practicing the prescribed success criteria with fidelity, before moving on to any subsequent cycle.

Administrators visited classrooms and professional learning communities weekly, looking for evidence of success and collaborating with team members. PD was provided as needed based on the data from observations until more than 90% of the team met the success criteria. When 90% were tugging together, we celebrated success and introduced the next cycle, which built upon the first and increased in complexity—not content. Each ensuing cycle took a bit longer to celebrate (Cycle 1, 2 weeks; Cycle 2, 6 weeks; Cycle 3, 6 months etc.), but each was anchored in strategies that cultivated opportunities for students to join the tug-of-war team. Cycles continued to focus on clarity of learning intentions, success criteria, rigor, and engagement, which leverage the likelihood of matching pedagogy and students’ investment in visible learning.

After nearly a year and a half, we are seeing the first measurable and systemic steps, tugging toward our team’s promise for success. This is the most significant movement at the classroom level since my administrative tenure began in Roxana. We now have an energized and synchronized tug-of-war team that includes staff and students pulling in coordination to change the direction of our district!

If you are interested in learning more about Roxana’s cycles, rubrics, success criteria, or any of the PD provided, contact


Morton West High School Infuses Insight-Driven Intentional Data Review Into School Improvement Planning

Illinois CSI at AIR’s West Cook team had the pleasure of working with Morton West High School by leading the school’s needs assessment process as suggested by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Partnering with leaders from across the district and school, the West Cook team facilitated Illinois CSI at AIR’s IDR process during which district and school leaders reviewed and analyzed data to uncover the root causes of systemic issues that impede continuous improvement. The IDR includes a co-interpretationSM session, an all-day distinctively hands-on, collaborative, evidence-based approach developed by AIR to help teams reach consensus on critical issues discovered by a district review of its own data. During the root cause analysis, Illinois CSI worked with Morton West to methodically examine the highest priorities for improvement as determined during the co-interpretation to identify underlying factors critical to school improvement planning.

Two of the district’s high schools use another process to biannually review the progress of school improvement plans. However, as a result of the IDR, district and school leaders have been discussing how to incorporate elements of the IDR into their current progress review. The West Cook team is working with the district to develop a singular data review process that all Morton schools can use to monitor progress on their school improvement plans. Meanwhile, the reception of IDR has been extremely positive:

“The conversation was rich and honest between all stakeholders that brought us to a deeper understanding of our building needs.”
Josh McMahon
Principal, Morton West High School“The discussions with colleagues were great and supportive. I loved the process. It brought out the issues that the district needs to focus on in the most collaborative way I’ve ever been involved during my 29 years in the district.”
Laurie Stokes
Science Lead Teacher, Morton West High School

Survey results from past IDR participants revealed that:

  • 83% of respondents agreed that they were clearer about what the data in the IDR process illustrated about their district.
  • 93% of survey respondents felt that participating in the root cause analysis process was helpful for their district.
  • 93% of surveyed respondents believed their root cause analysis informed the improvement planning process.


South Cook School Administrators Connect the Dots on Effective Use of Data and Progress Monitoring

Illinois CSI at AIR partnered with districts in the South Cook region to host two professional development sessions connecting principals with content shared during Illinois CSI’s renowned district leadership team learning network (DLTLN) and Principals Institute programs. A special thank you goes to Dr. Johnnie Thomas and the staff of Rich Township High School District 227 who were gracious hosts.

The Principals Institute is a series of professional development sessions developed by Illinois CSI at AIR and designed to provide participants with practical tools and insight to problem-solve and apply Illinois CSI at AIR’s continuous improvement process in their settings to help school building leaders enhance their effectiveness.

More than 30 building administrators participated in an in-depth discussion about the use of data and progress monitoring to inform team decisions and examined evidence-based practices to strengthen the use of data across the district. The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from the region on how the effective use of data supports continuous improvement efforts was enlightening. Following are some post-event reflections from attendees:

“The [Illinois] CSI Principals Institute was an eye-opening experience for me and my team. During the first session, I had many ah-ha moments, which led to immediate conversations with my leadership teams. Discussing adult practices, student and adult monitoring, and use of data was a great way to build my own capacity as well as the capacity of my leadership team. The essential takeaway for me is ‘intentional’ planning, implementation, and monitoring of data practices to improve the overall performance of all students.”
Scott Savage
Principal, Bloom High School, Bloom Township“The Principals Institute was very helpful for me as a first-year principal. As we work to align our school leadership team (SLT) to the state model, I am able to better understand the process, given the information provided at these Principals Institute sessions. The materials are very helpful as [they allow] me to add these tools to facilitate a more collaborative SLT meeting. I am very excited about the support provided by our district assistance team and the Illinois CSI.”
Dornetta Walker
Principal, Washington School, Dolton 148

These peer supportive networking sessions have been a hallmark of Illinois CSI’s work with districts and school leaders in placing them front and center in their own transformation. In these settings, leadership team members gather to share and learn from each other. The time away from the school building is invaluable for participants to review and apply research to their context, think critically about their plans, and receive objective feedback from peers to help them grow in their craft.

In Case You Missed It:

Illinois CSI at AIR Presented at the 2018 Statewide ESSA Conference

Illinois CSI at AIR team members were honored to present at the 2018 Statewide ESSA Conference held in Chicago. The sessions shared best practices with district and school leaders for implementation of the state’s ESSA plan in providing support under IL-EMPOWER. View presentations and handouts from the sessions listed below:

  • “ESSA Implementation: Leadership Development to Strengthen Equity and Excellence for All Students,” Presenters: Terri Wilcox, Michael Czerniawski, and Char Cieply
  • “Using Data for Planning, Implementation, and Monitoring of Evidence-Based Strategies Within ESSA,” Presenters: Marcia Driver, Trent Eisenbarth, Lynn Carter, and Christy Brinkley
  • “Supporting and Enhancing Your Core Instruction With Evidence-Based Tier II and Tier III Math Interventions,” Presenters: Nimisha Bhatt, EdD, and Lisa Jones
  • “School Quality/Student Success Indicators in ESSA—Implementing Restorative Justice to Support Equity and Excellence for All Students,” Presenters: Cheryl Patterson-Menckowski and Kevin Junk

Upcoming Events

AIR Coaching Webinar April 12 at 2:00 p.m.

Mark your calendar for this online event with AIR experts Donna Warthan and Nick Yoder as they share coaching tools to assist districts and schools in their school climate and social and emotional learning implementation efforts. Register for Coaching to Support the Conditions for a Well-Rounded Education.

Superintendents Commission for the Study of Demographic Diversity April 19–20

Illinois CSI at AIR is proud to present at this year’s Superintendents Commission for the Study of Demographic Diversity, April 20, at the Tinley Park Convention Center in Tinley Park, Illinois. Workshop titles include the following:

  • “Creating a Valid and Reliable Assessment,” Presenter: Dan Frederking
  • “Ensuring Equitable Access to Core Instruction for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students,” Presenters: Nimisha Bhatt, EdD, and Valerie Butròn
  • “Elevating Students With Practices That Are Restorative and Trauma-Informed,” Presenters: Patti Furlano and Shanna Shipman
  • “Engaging in Argument From Evidence: Supporting Student Achievement Across Multiple Content Areas,” Presenter: Bridina Lemmer, PhD

For more information or to register, visit

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