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The District 65 School Board decided on Oct. 18 that it will consistently measure and monitor the percent of students who are on track for college readiness. School Board president Keith Terry said, “There’s been a shift nationally in education to college readiness, and I think you’ve seen that shift starting to happen at District 65.”

The District will continue to monitor the percent of students who meet and exceed standards on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). In addition, the District will measure and monitor the percent of students who score at and above the 50th percentile, using, among other measures, the percent who score at and above the average scale score of all Illinois students who take the same ISAT test. The 50th percentile is often used as an indicator of performing at “grade level.”

Benchmarks set at the 50th percentile and being on track to college readiness each set higher expectations, and require much higher levels of knowledge and ability than the “meets standards” benchmark of the ISATs.

Reports recently prepared by Paul Zavitkovsky, of the Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, illustrated that using the “meet standards” benchmark of the ISATs masks what is happening at higher achievement levels at School District 65. In 2009, about 98% of white eighth-graders and 78% of African eighth-graders “met standards” on the ISATs. By contrast, about 85% of white eighth-graders and 30% of African American eighth-graders were on track to college readiness.

The data presented by District 65 in their achievement report on Oct. 18 reflects good progress over time, particularly for African American students, using a variety of measures – as do Mr. Zavitkovsky’s reports. The District’s data also shows, though, there were substantial achievement gaps when measured by the difference in ISAT scale scores and the percent of students on track to college readiness.

While pointing to the progress that has been made, Dr. Murphy also said, “We know there is a significant gap when you look at scale scores between African American and white students, when you look at the percentages of African American students that are now getting at grade level and above and at college readiness and above.”

Dr. Murphy said, “Over time there has been improvement, no matter which lens you look at, it indicates that the direction is right, the issue is how do you get an increased rate of improvement. That’s a challenge that we understand we face,” he said. “That’s a challenge we’re trying to take up.”

% on Track to College Readiness

For the first time, District 65 reported data showing the percent of students, by ethnicity who are on track to college readiness. In broad terms, the data shows that roughly 84% of white students, 42% of Hispanic students, and 35% of African American students were on track to college readiness at eighth grade in the 2009-10 school year.

The ACT has identified college readiness benchmarks, which it says are synonymous with career readiness in today’s world. The District presented data showing estimates of the percent of District 65 eighth-graders who were on track to college readiness using ACT’s benchmarks applicable to the EXPLORE test and using benchmarks identified by Mr. Zavitkovsky.

Mr. Zavitkovsky’s estimates are based on four years of state-wide comparisons between eighth-grade ISAT and eleventh-grade ACT scores. Mr. Zavitkovsky found that, in recent years, eighth-graders statewide typically needed to be at or above the 60th Illinois percentile in reading and at or above the 68th Illinois percentile in math to be on track to ACT college readiness in eleventh grade. At the RoundTable’s request, he identified the 2010 ISAT scale scores aligned to these Illinois percentile ranks.

The table, top right, shows the percent of District 65 eighth-graders who were estimated to be on track for college readiness in 2010 using these two benchmarks. There are variations depending on which benchmark is used. Both show, however, that high percentages of white students are on track for college readiness by eighth-grade. Much lower percentages of African American and Hispanic students are on track for college readiness.

The Impact of Economic Status

District 65’s achievement reports did not separate test data for African American students based on economic status. Mr. Zavitkovsky’s reports, however, broke out this data for District 65’s third, fifth and eighth-graders for the period 2001-09. The data shows that, within the African American population, there is a strong relationship between household income and student achievement.

Dr. Murphy referred to one chart prepared by Mr. Zavitkovsky that showed that the percent of District 65 African American eighth-graders who were not low-income and who scored above the 60th Illinois percentile in math increased from 29% in 2001 to 58% in 2009. “To me that represents a rate of change that’s significant,” said Dr. Murphy.

He said, “When you look at [students eligible for] free and reduced-price lunch, you don’t see the same kind of incline.”

Charts provided by Mr. Zavitkovsky show that the percent of District 65 African American eighth-graders who were from low-income households and who scored above the 60th Illinois percentile in math increased from 15% in 2001 to 30% in 2009.

After looking at this and other data, Dr. Murphy said administrators concluded, “What we need to do is put together an intervention that addresses home, community, school, teachers, classroom and time.” They developed the idea of using “instructional support teams” to work with schools that have high percentages of students from low-income households.

These teachers have an “academic caseload” of students who are not successful, and their task is to “develop a bond with those students, to work with the teachers, to develop some kind of communication and relationship with the home so they’re able to build a more powerful learning experience for the child that extends between the school and the home,” said Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Murphy said other instructional initiatives include the “Start Smart” program which is a concerted effort to provide parents of young children with practical ways to assist in educating their children. The District is also increasing its efforts to educate children in the general education classroom and pushing interventions into the classroom, rather than pulling them out for interventions. Dr. Murphy said the District is also continuing to improve differentiated instruction in the classroom.

Shifting Focus to College Readiness

Members of the School Board said being on track to college readiness should be a focus of the District, not just at the eighth grade level, but at earlier grade levels as well. They also asked that the test data be broken out by economic status.

Referring to the percent of African American students who were on track for college readiness, Mr. Terry said, “It’s quite dismal. … It makes my stomach cringe to see the numbers so low.”

He asked that the District break out the data reported for African American students by economic status. He said, “Is performance just based on ethnicity. I don’t think so; it’s based on many other components such as socio-economics. If the most powerful indicator is socio-economics, that’s what we need to break out.”

Katie Bailey referred to a cohort comparison chart in Mr. Zavitkovsky’s reports that provided stanine scores for four cohorts of students moving from third to eighth-grade by ethnicity and economic status. She noted that for African American students who were not low-income, 34.6% were on track to college readiness as third-graders in 2004, and 48.5% were on track as eighth-graders in 2009.

She said, “What I want to challenge us as a Board to do is to look at this all the time,” to which Mr. Terry said “Exactly.” She continued, “We need to be talking about this because the higher we can get that 34.6% up in third grade, as that number increases, my theory is when those kids are in eighth-grade, that number will be higher if we get them earlier.

“Proficiency, grade level, and college and career readiness,” Ms. Bailey said, “I’d like us each year to be looking at how we are doing on those three things.”

“Absolutely,” said Dr. Murphy.

Tracy Quattrocki, who has been advocating for a goal of college readiness for more than a year, said, “We have to have some reaction to this data beyond just saying it’s all different ways of looking at it. Because the one statistic of 70% of kids – and I don’t want to quibble whether its 65% or 78% – leave eighth grade not career or college ready is something we need to come up with a response to.

“Even though we don’t influence curriculum, we don’t come up with intervention teams, we do set priorities, we do tell the administration what’s really important to us. And I think Katie articulated it well, it’s something we need to consistently look at. I think the 50th percentile – grade level – is important. I think the 60th and 68th percentiles are important.

“I think to go one step further I think we need to be concrete about this,” Ms. Quattrocki continued. “I think we need to write it in our goals and say we want to look at these numbers and – and not to set where we have to be – but we need to write it down and set a measure in our goals for eighth-grade readiness and we need to do what we talked so long about, working backward from eighth grade and say where need to be in third grade and fourth grade, so we can be on track and we have a chance of being where we want to be.”

Kim Weaver supported targeting students at an earlier level and asked if there were instructional programs that were succeeding, such as the African Centered Curriculum, that could be implemented on a District-wide basis. Referring to the ACC program, Dr. Murphy said, “We don’t see a material difference in the percentages at this point,” but he added, “There’s an energy that’s nurturing and inspiring.”

Andy Pigozzi said, “I think really this is the crux of what we do. It’s more important than I think any other discussion. I think it really should drive, – it really should be a priority much more so than other things that might take an enormous amount of time from the administration and from teachers.”

He added, “I want to express some gratitude toward teachers who have worked very hard at preparing these kids to keep them moving forward. It’s not easy. A lot of our kids have very big challenges.”

Bonnie Lockhart said, “I want to thank the administration for all the work that they have done and to applaud the teachers because they really are the backbone of what we do.

“I was very happy to hear that African American students were not just looked at as African American students. I think that looking at their socio-economic status is really important because sometimes I think that’s overshadowed when all African American students are lumped together, and as Mr. Terry said, it really does make a difference. In looking at that data, we can build on that and maybe use what is working with them and then … find other ways to help those students that are struggling.”

Mr. Brinson said, “The issue of proficiency, grade level and college readiness, and beginning to look at those and how we are progressing on that will be a very important thing.”

Mr. Terry summed up that the District will start reporting data on a continuous basis showing proficiency, grade level – the percent of students at or above the 50th percentile, and college readiness.

Ms. Quattrocki clarified that the data should show the 50th Illinois percentile – the percentile based on the percent of students scoring at or above the average scale score of Illinois students taking the same ISAT test, and that the data should show college readiness based on ISAT scale scores aligned to the 60th Illinois percentile in reading and the 68th Illinois percentile in math.

Mr. Brinson said data would be provided using “Illinois percentiles.” Dr. Murphy said, “We’ll try to make sure we present all of this.” He said the District would provide additional information as well.

Mr. Terry circled back to putting this down as a goal. Dr. Murphy said the administration did not have a problem putting it down in a Board goal.

Ms. Bailey said, “I think we all agree to the three things. I think it goes into the Board goals…. I think we’re all saying, yes we want it.”

“For me it’s real simple,” Mr. Terry said. “Since we’re all saying the same thing, we’re clear.”

He told the RoundTable it would be put on the agenda at a subsequent meeting.

% D65 Eighth-Graders On Track to College Readiness

Reading    EXPL.  PZ

Black          35%    29%

Hispanic     33%    38%

White          78%     86%


Black          37%   36%

Hispanic      52%   44%

White          90%   82%

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...