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Evergreen Park uses incentives to make big leap on school tests

Allante Bailey Colleen Burns Eleni Eliopoulos Andy Piet John Measner Anthony Betts all students from Evergreen Park High School 9901

Allante Bailey, Colleen Burns, Eleni Eliopoulos, Andy Piet, John Measner and Anthony Betts, all students from Evergreen Park High School 9901 S. Kedzie. Thursday, October 25, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Evergreen Park High School junior Colleen Burns is the envy of many of her classmates who drive to school. There’s a parking spot with her name on it.

She won it in a raffle for students at the south suburban school exceeding their predicted scores on the Prairie State Achievement Exam last April.

“It was that little extra push to make you want to do better. A definite plus, because now I can sleep a little longer,” the 17-year-old said.

Under the incentive program, students earned a raffle ticket for each area on the PSAE — reading, writing, math, science and social studies — where they met or exceeded computer-predicted scores. Dangled carrots included four reserved parking spots, free prom packages, extra graduation tickets.

But the incentives were among many initiatives undertaken by Evergreen Park Community High School District 231 on a journey toward the largest jump in rank among Cook County high schools — from 232 last year to 122 this year.

“We made many curricular changes as a result of the high-stakes testing priorities,” said Beth Hart, superintendent of the one-school district.

Evergreen Park’s 850 students are 53 percent white, 30 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian — with 22 percent low-income.

“We have an incredible structure here for only 850 students, a principal and a curriculum director. We do not wait until their junior year to say, ‘Oh, we hope they do well,’ ” Hart said. “When our kids don’t do well, they don’t move on. Our interventions are immediate. It’s really a corporate model where we want the kids to try for their own personal best.”

Many prongs of that model were instituted four years ago.

So juniors who took the two-day state exam in April represent the first class that was exposed, walking in, to initiatives designed to increase the probability they’d meet or exceed scores on their junior year assessment.

Freshmen students identified at-risk are placed in a research-based reading remediation program, Read 180, emphasizing vocabulary and comprehension.

“It’s my fourth year teaching it, and I really have seen an improvement overall,” the Reading 180 teacher, Abra Macellaio, said on a recent day, as 20 students read independently, in large groups or on computers. “I’ve seen the kids move on and retain the skills over their four years,” she said.

The school also instituted reading across curriculum. From English to math or music, all classes read for up to 10 minutes at the start of each class.

To promote comprehension amid testing deadlines, teachers also got digital timers. So whether the word problems being taught in trigonometry teacher Katie Allgaier’s class, or the Monroe Doctrine lesson in history teacher Pat Flannigan’s class — the reading segments are timed quizzes.

And in math, every student receiving a “D” or “F” on a test in algebra or geometry class is required to attend an after-school math remediation resource room. There, they must get up to speed before they are allowed to rejoin their class.

The incentives and innovative reading and math initiatives are just tips of the iceberg. Some 88 percent of Evergreen Park’s graduates go on to college.

Seniors like Anthony Betts who won the PSAE incentive awards, however, say there is nothing like an immediate payoff.

“I won 10 graduation tickets and earned a Friday off,” the 17-year-old said. “Now I won’t have the problem I had in middle school, trying to decide who gets to come to graduation. And of course, it’s always nice to have a day off.”

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