In the past several weeks, the last ten minutes of the District 65 School Board’s Jan. 24 meeting has become a flashpoint. The District’s attempt to knock a video of that portion of the meeting off YouTube only served to spawn more publicity and controversy. We think it is important to keep a focus on the issues raised in that meeting.

At that meeting, Board member Tracy Quattrocki proposed to put an issue on the Board’s agenda for discussion at a future meeting. She said she wanted a Board-level discussion about the measures the District was using to evaluate whether students are on track to college and career readiness. She added that she wanted the Board to discuss whether the District should be using the 50th and 60th percentiles on the Stanford Achievement Test, tenth edition (SAT-10) as an indicator of college readiness. (The SAT-10 is a totally different test from the college admission test called the SAT, which was formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test).

Ms. Quattrocki’s request frames one of the most important issues the School Board will face: What measures will it use to assess whether the school district has done its part in preparing students to be on track to college readiness and/or decent paying careers with a chance for advancement?

In its 2010 achievement report, District 65 reports the percentage of students at or above the 50th and 60th percentiles on the SAT-10 under a heading “College Readiness.” In a recent guest essay, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said that it should be acknowledged that students at these percentiles were on track to being college-ready.

In a series of articles, the RoundTable reported that the SAT-10 generates much higher percentiles than other tests and measures. Because of this, the RoundTable opined in two editorials that using the 50th and 60th percentiles on the SAT-10 to measure college readiness would end up setting low benchmarks for students, ones that are substantially lower than other measures of college readiness. The following example illustrates the impact with respect to District 65 eighth-graders in the 2009-10 class:

• Two benchmarks, one based on EXPLORE scale scores and a second based on ISAT scale scores, indicate respectively that 35% and 29% of African American eighth-graders at District 65 were on track to meeting the college readiness benchmarks identified by ACT for reading. About 40% of eighth-graders in the state met those benchmarks.

• By contrast, using the 50th and 60th percentiles on the SAT-10 portrays respectively that 68% and 53% of African American eighth-graders at District 65 were on track to “college readiness.” These percentages are roughly double the percentages that are based on the EXPLORE and ISAT scale scores, which are aligned with ACT’s college readiness benchmarks.

The RoundTable has asked District 65 administrators on three occasions for any study or research report that says that using the 50th or 60th percentiles on the SAT-10 are valid indicators of college readiness. The District has provided none.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “I think the real issue that we’re struggling with here is I think what we’re doing is stereotyping black kids as failing in this District.” We think it is unfortunate to cast this discussion as one that stereotypes black children as failing.

Ms. Quattrocki has been a tireless advocate on behalf of all children and repeatedly urged the District to adopt high expectations for all students. Implicit in that is a recognition that all students can excel. Virtually everyone who has written on the subject has said that high expectations and treating children with a belief that they can excel is pivotal to raising achievement levels.

Likewise the RoundTable has repeatedly urged the Board to adopt high expectations for all students. In its series on student achievement the RoundTable reported that African American students in District 65 have made substantial gains in achievement during the last ten years. This paper presented disaggregated data showing that 63% of African American eighth-graders who were not low-income scored higher than the statewide average on the 2009 ISATs in reading and 57% did so in math. This is not stereotyping students as failing. It reports real progress.

We continue to believe students can do better. What is at issue here is how District 65 will measure whether it has done its part to prepare students to be on track to thrive academically in high school, to succeed in college if they choose that path, or to obtain a decent paying job with a chance for advancement.

In its Race to the Top Application, the Illinois State Board of Education recently endorsed using ACT’s college readiness benchmarks as a primary indicator of success to measure whether progress was being made to prepare students for college. Using the EXPLORE and ISAT scale scores that are tied to the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks is consistent with that view, and they unquestionably set higher expectations for students than the 50th and 60th percentiles on the SAT-10. The District 65 School Board decided in October that the District would annually report the percentage of students who were on track to college readiness using the EXPLORE and ISAT scale scores. We think the Board should stick with these higher expectations.

We hope the Board can have a civil discourse on this important topic before the District issues its 2011 Achievement Report in October.