The agenda for the District 65 School Board’s Oct. 3 meeting scheduled time to discuss the achievement reports prepared by Paul Zavitkovsky, of the Urban School Leadership Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, concerning achievement at School Districts 65 and 202. The RoundTable published a series of articles on June 9 and 23 and July 7 reporting the results of Mr. Zavitkovsky’s study.

At the meeting, District 65 administrators did not present any charts prepared by Mr. Zavitkovsky or summarize the data contained in his reports to facilitate the discussion.

Instead, Paul Brinson, chief information officer for the District, presented a long list of definitions of terms, such as ISATs, SAT-10, NAEP, MAP, cut scores, standards, percentiles, stanines, etc.

After finishing his discussion of terms, Mr. Brinson said, “I didn’t see anything in the RoundTable studies that leads me to believe that we haven’t presented that same kind of information to you over time. There’s no startling revelations in that. You can talk about the degree of difference. …and whether or not the degree of difference is there. But the difference is real.”

One example that Mr. Brinson mentioned was the achievement gap between African American and white students. He said both the District’s reports and Mr. Zavitkovsky’s indicate that progress has been made in closing the gap. He added the District has acknowledged there is an achievement gap and that more progress needs to be made.

The extent of the achievement gap reported by the District and that reported by Mr. Zavitkovsky is dramatic.

Using the “meet standards” reporting method of the ISAT – a method which focuses on the percent of students who exceed a low level of proficiency – the District has reported a gap of about 15 points between the percent of African American and white students “meeting standards” on the ISATs in 2009.

Working with exactly the same test data, however, Mr. Zavitkovsky found that the gap is much larger when the standard is the percent of students exceeding the 50th Illinois percentile, or the percent of students who are on track for college readiness – both of which rest on higher expectations of students.

When the standard is the percent of students scoring at or above the 50th Illinois percentile – which percentile rank is often used as an indicator of performing at “grade level” – the gap is about 45 percentage points. When the standard is raised to the percent of students scoring at a level that indicates being on track for college readiness, the gap is about 55 points. See stories on pages 24 and 26.

College and Career Readiness

There is a growing recognition that the primary purpose of education is to prepare students for college and career readiness. In June the State of Illinois adopted the Common Core State Standards that were developed by a consortium of 50 states and territories and the District of Columbia. The stated goal of these new learning standards is to prepare students to have the knowledge and skills they need for college or a career. 

Recent studies conclude that in today’s world the skills and knowledge needed for career readiness at the end of high school are the same as those needed for college readiness. The ACT sponsored study, “The Forgotten Middle,” concludes that to obtain a decent paying job with opportunities for career advancement “require[s] knowledge and skills comparable to those expected of the first-year college student.” 

“The State We’re In: 2010,” a report issued by Advance Illinois in late September concludes, “College and career readiness must be the goal for all students. Increasingly, data suggests that the two standards are converging.” Advance Illinois is a bipartisan educational reform group co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Jim Daley and former Governor Jim Edgar. 

“Right now we were talking about college readiness, and that’s where we have to back up from,” said Keith Terry, president of the District 65 School Board, at the Board’s Oct. 3 meeting. “If it truly is that the nation is moving toward college readiness then we need to back up from this and keep it really simple and not complex. What is it? What do we have to do? Those are both of the questions that the Board has to deal with.” 

In his reports Mr. Zavitkovsky found that in 2009 eighth-graders who scored at the 17th Illinois percentile in reading (at or better than just 17 percent of the students who took the same test) “met standards” on the ISATs. In order to be on track for college readiness, however, students needed to be at or above the 60th Illinois percentile in reading, and at or above the 68th Illinois percentile in math. (Illinois percentiles are the percentile ranks of Illinois students in relation to other Illinois students who took the same test.)

Using these benchmarks, the data presented by Mr. Zavitkovsky shows that about 30% of District 65 African American eighth-graders were on track for college readiness in 2009. About 85% of white students were on track for college readiness. 

Mr. Brinson said Mr. Zavitkovsky was able to work back from a pool of data that he had for students throughout the State and identify benchmarks for college readiness as defined by EXPLORE and ACT. He added that the District now had benchmarks it could use to measure college readiness that it did not have before. 

“College readiness or career readiness, that’s a good way to look at it, and we now have some metrics we can use,” said Mr. Brinson. “But to become the only standard, I think that’s a mistake.” 

“I think that’s part of what was done in the studies or range of reports that come in the RoundTable and what Mr. Zavitkovsky was trying to do,” Mr. Brinson continued. “Here’s another lens through which we can view the issue of progress, not that we’re going to throw away all the other lenses.” 

Referring to an achievement report the District is scheduled to present on Oct. 18, Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked the administration to present data showing the percent of students performing at the benchmarks for college readiness identified by Mr. Zavitkovsky – the 60th percentile in reading and the 68th percentile for math. She said, “If we’re talking about college and career readiness, those are numbers we should be attuned to at this point.” 

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “That’s not a problem.” Board member Kim Weaver added that it should not be a difficult task to provide that information. 

The EXPLORE Test Also Measures College Readiness

Another test that is a reliable predictor of college readiness is the EXPLORE battery of tests for English, Reading, Math and Science. In its Race to the Top application filed with the U.S. Department of Education in May, the State of Illinois said it would use EXPLORE test results as a primary indicator of school effectiveness. 

EXPLORE has been administered by ETHS to District 65 eighth-graders for many years, but District 65 only began to report EXPLORE results in its achievement report in October 2009 after being pressed by several Board members to do so. While the District reported scale score results by ethnicity in its October 2009 achievement report, it did not report the percent of African American, white or Hispanic students who met EXPLORE’s on-track- to-college- readiness benchmarks. 

Last year District 65 administrators successfully fended off efforts to include EXPLORE test results as a measure of progress in the District’s accountability system. They said EXPLORE was not aligned with Illinois standards, and raised other objections to the test. Hence, the message appears to be that the results may be looked at, but not used to measure progress at District 65.

Several Board members thanked Mr. Zavitkovsky for his work and the RoundTable for reporting the results of his study.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...