Afterschool Focus: Back to School with the New Illinois Learning Standards

Because Fall means back to school for many of us, this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly discusses the Illinois Learning Standards (ILS), one of the “hot topics” that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has identified for the 2015-16 school year.

The ILS define what all students in Illinois public schools should know and be able to do in the seven core areas as a result of their elementary and secondary schooling. A summary of the status of the different ILS is included in the table below. For a full update and overview, visit the Learning Standards Review on the 2015-16 school year hot topics web page or watch the Board’s back-to-school webinar for administrators.


New Illinois Learning Standard Status


Standard Alignment


English Language Arts

Aligned with Common Core State Standards

Full implementation 2013-14 school year


Aligned with Common Core State Standards

Full implementation 2013-14 school year


Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards

Full implementation 2016-17 school year

Social Studies

Complement other new ILS with focus on critical thinking and real-life experiences

Proposed standards approved by ISBE; have moved to rule-making process with public debate and feedback

Physical Development and Health

Based on recommendations of the Enhance Physical Education Task Force

Full implementation 2015-16 school year

Fine Arts

Based on research and best practices in arts education

Review of arts standards currently under way; recommendation to ISBE expected in January 2016

Foreign Languages

Advisory Standards


Aligning Afterschool Activities with Illinois State Learning Standards

While Illinois schools have begun using new standards, 21st CCLC programs have long sought to align afterschool activities with state standards to better support student academic success. By visiting and collecting data on promising afterschool programs across the United States, we have learned that 21st CCLCs that provide standards-based learning activities share many of the same practices.1

Program and site leaders are knowledgeable about state and national learning standards. Many afterschool programs hire school-day staff to help align programming with standards. Project directors and site coordinators can also learn more about the standards on the Illinois Learning Standards web page. To stay up to date on the latest information and resources, read the Capture the Core newsletters and sign up for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and standards-based assessment listservs.

Afterschool leaders at both the program and site level are able to facilitate curriculum planning linked to state or national standards as well as to school and district goals. Afterschool leaders can play a key role helping staff of all education levels and backgrounds feel more comfortable with the Illinois Learning Standards by modeling quality instructional practices and helping staff plan lessons with specific goals. Enrichment does not have to be limited to core academic subjects. In fact, subjects like the arts and technology offer some of the most creative, hands-on ways for students to explore English language arts and mathematics. To help your staff get creative ideas for academic enrichment, visit the arts and technology sections of the Afterschool Training Toolkit. For an example of arts programming in action, read our program profile on Peoria Public School District 150’s 21st CCLC program.

Academic activities intentionally address specific content learning standards that are linked to the school day. Linking to the school day and offering standards-aligned activities does not mean you have to buy new curriculum. The Illinois Classrooms in Action website has resources for English language arts, mathematics, science, and career and technical education (watch for more resources as other standards are implemented). CCSS websites also provide support for Illinois English language arts and mathematics standards. For example, the Achieve the Core site has free lessons and resources for Common Core State Standards. Achieve, Inc., an organization dedicated to college and career readiness, is leading an initiative called EQuIP (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products) to identify high-quality materials aligned to CCSS. The initiative has a list of more than 100 exemplar and exemplar-if-improved lessons as well as rubrics for determining whether instructional activities and assessments are aligned with CCSS.

Professional development activities focus on ways to integrate academic content standards into learning activities. To help all afterschool staff learn about topics and strategies related to student achievement, we encourage afterschool leaders to offer ongoing, job-embedded professional development for their teams. The Illinois State Board of Education website has a professional learning series that addresses different levels of knowledge and understanding with the Illinois Learning Standards.

Learning activities based on student data address student learning goals. Afterschool programs can also boost student achievement by offering activities that address individual academic needs. To do this, afterschool staff can communicate with school-day teachers and administrators, sharing student data to learn about individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the Bell provides additional guidelines and a data sharing agreement (tool 54) that will both foster communication and protect student privacy.2

Afterschool practitioners communicate regularly with school-day staff about student achievement goals. Because standards alignment is so closely connected to the school day, afterschool programs find ongoing communication with school-day staff to be essential. This practice can include regularly scheduled meetings with principals and teachers as well as using tools to communicate about student progress and assignments. The Partnerships and Collaboration section from Beyond the Bell outlines strategies and resources for fostering effective communication with school-day staff (see tools 44, 46, and 47). In addition, the homework section of the Afterschool Training Toolkit has several templates that afterschool practitioners can use to communicate about student progress.

Next Steps for Your 21st CCLC

The practices for offering standards-aligned activities have undoubtedly given you opportunities to reflect on your own program’s strengths and weaknesses. You can continue this exploration by completing the self-assessment in A Practitioner’s Guide: Building and Managing Quality Afterschool Programs.3 The self-assessment tool is followed by a planning for action template that will help you identify and implement the next steps for your 21st CCLC. To learn more about using Beyond the Bell with your afterschool program, register for the Training of Trainers event that takes place in Naperville on November 3-4.


1Over a 4-year period, SEDL led the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning in studying 53 afterschool programs with afterschool data suggesting an impact on student learning. To learn more, see Huang, Mostafavi, & Nam (2008). 

2 These resources can be found in the section on partnerships and collaboration. All project directors received Beyond the Bell at the January 2015 Illinois Quality Afterschool Project Director’s Workshop. You can also explore this resource online.

3 Jordan, Parker, Donnelly, & Rudo, eds., 2014, pp. 27-30. 


Huang, D., Cho, J., Mostafavi, S., & Nam, H. (2008). What works? Common practices in high functioning afterschool programs: The National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning final report. Austin, TX: SEDL. Available from

Jordan, C., Parker, J., Donnelly, D., Rudo, Z. (Eds.). (2009). A practitioner’s guide: Building and managing quality afterschool programs. Austin, TX: SEDL. Available from

McElvain, C. K., Moroney, D. A., Devaney, E. D., Singer, J. S., & Newman, J. Z. (2014). Beyond the Bell: A toolkit for creating effective afterschool and expanded learning programs (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.