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Conference looks at H.S. learning

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BLOOMINGTON — High school students in Illinois and across the United States aren’t growing as much academically as their counterparts in other developing countries.

More than 450 classroom teachers, curriculum directors, and education leaders from across Illinois descended on Bloomington this week for a state-wide conference to look at why that is, and what they can do about it.

The High School Challenge: Rigor and Relevance Meet Reality conference at Doubletree Hotel Conference Center focused on trends, testing, and what a high school diploma means today.

"It’s a good time to reflect," said Cindy Helmers, Bloomington High School principal.

Kati Haycock, a child advocate and director of the California-based research and education advocacy group Education Trust, encouraged participants to think hard about who teaches what to whom.

Scheduling decisions are sometimes made based on adult preferences not student benefit, she said.

Sometimes, good teachers are rewarded with the best students. But schools need to ensure that — kids who need it most — get the best teachers in rigorous core subjects, she said.

Christopher Neidigh, assistant principal at Prairie Central High School in Fairbury, said this is something he has heard in other workshops.

"I think we can improve in that area," said Neidigh of his school and others.

Bloomington High School already requires all teachers to teach a combination of higher level and lower level classes. "It’s good for the students and for the teachers," Helmers said.

As for the "achievement gap" between minority and low-income students and others, Haycock said significant advancements are being made in elementary schools.

There is also some progress in middle schools, but the gap is still widening in high schools.

"Most of the ideas (at the conference) reinforce what we’ve learned at past conferences and know from our gut," said Tom Eder, Normal Community West High School principal.

However, participants did get good ideas from each other about tackling some of the challenges school face today, he said.

"Common sense on steroids," is the answer to many of those challenges, Haycock said.

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