The School Board has put a hold on its $18 million Comprehensive Approach to Student Achievement program (CASA), which was to begin with staff development sessions June 14 and 15.

In a June 11 letter to providers of school services, Ana Espinoza, interim officer of curriculum, instruction and professional development, explained that it was “imperative that the new leadership team be able to determine the direction for our schools.”

CASA was intended to improve reading scores at 200 elementary schools by requiring them to select instructional programs that have the board’s seal of approval.

However, a Catalyst survey of schools singled out for the effort indicates that most schools already are using board-approved programs and had planned to continue doing so.

Catalyst interviewed principals at 59 of the 200 CASA schools; 33, or more than half, selected one program, or in some cases two, that they already are using; an additional 7 schools reported choosing one new program and one program already in use. Out of those 40 schools, only four chose to continue with programs that were not on the CASA list.

“We had a model we’d been using — the Comprehensive Literacy Initiative — for kindergarten through 3rd grade,” said Carl Lawson, principal of Price Elementary School in North Kenwood. “Now I can do 4th through 8th grade and get some money to do it.”

Each of the 200 schools was to receive up to $60,000 for books and materials, plus $40 per student. In addition, the board was recruiting administrators or teachers with principal certification to form three-person monitoring teams.

With less than 26 percent of its students scoring at or above national norms in reading last year, Price is categorized as a “low performing school.” It started using the Comprehensive Literacy Initiative this school year; the program is run by the University of Chicago’s Center for School Improvement.

Doolittle Intermediate School in the Oakland neighborhood chose Direct Instruction, a scripted reading program. “This is our third year with Direct Instruction,” said Principal Lori Lennix.

Doolittle is on academic remediation, which means that for three years in a row, at least 50 percent of its students failed to meet state testing standards and its scores were declining rather than improving. Lennix said this year’s Iowa test results, up 6.5 percentage points from last year, show that Direct Instruction, a scripted curriculum, is having a positive impact.

“I don’t know if it’s the No.1 model, but it works for us,” she said.

Familiarity was the main factor other principals cited for sticking with certain models.

Sandra Lewis of Washington Elementary said her school chose Structured Curriculum, a complete set of lesson plans developed by CPS teachers. “We’ve been using it before, and its focus has worked well for us, so I want to stick with it,” she said.

Joan Forte, principal at Randolph Elementary, gave similar reasons for staying with two models already in place at her school: DePaul University’s Connections and Direct Instruction. “I knew them and researched them, and had experience with them,” she said.

Washington is on the CASA list because its reading scores slipped last year. Randolph is on the CASA list because of a two-year decline in scores.

CPS model popular

Under the CASA program outlined in April, each school was to select one of 22 board-approved curriculum models. However, CASA Executive Director Rollie Jones said last month that schools also would have the option of staying with a program they currently are using even if it’s not among the 22.

Among the 59 CASA schools Catalyst contacted, programs created by the School Board (Structured Curriculum and Read, Write Well) were among the top three picks.

Foundations, a small school located in the Creiger Mutliplex, is one of 19 schools that told Catalyst that they would add new curriculum programs. The school chose the School Board’s Technology Infusion Planning, or TIP, said Sylvia Gibson, director of the Creiger Mutliplex. The computer-based model includes staff computer training and allows the school to purchase new computers, according to Gibson.

She said the teachers were especially enthusiastic about the model because the training will be more structured than what they’ve received in the past. “I wish we had know about TIP earlier,” she said.

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