On Sept. 19, the District 65 School Board adopted four goals for the District’s five-year strategic plan and growth targets for three of the goals. Goals and targets were previously discussed by the Board on Aug. 17. The only goal the Board revised was a goal to reduce the achievement gap.

The Four Goals

Administrators recommended the Board adopt the following four goals:

1) Increase the percent of students at or above college readiness benchmarks (CRB) in math and reading;

2) Increase the percent of students making expected gains in math and reading, including both students who start below CRB and students who start above CRB;

3) Decrease the percent of students at or below the 25th percentile in both reading and math; and

4) Decrease achievement gaps between groups of students in math and reading.

On Sept. 19, administrators and the Board focused on the goal to decrease the achievement gap. Peter Godard, chief officer of research, accountability and data, said the goal would be measured based on the percentage of students meeting college readiness benchmarks, that it would require improvement for subgroups, and that it would require a decrease of the gap between a subgroup and the comparison subgroup.

“You could close the achievement gap by one group getting worse and another group less worse and that’s not what we want, obviously,” said Mr. Godard. “We would require the subgroups to show improvement and also that there be a decrease in the achievement gap.”

The goal will include reducing gaps between: 1) students who qualify for free/reduced price lunch and those who do not; 2) students who are African American/black, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and multi-racial and students who are white; and 3) students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and students who do not have an IEP.

Board President Tracy Quattrocki suggested that the explanation “that we are looking for growth in every subgroup” be included in the goal itself.

Board members agreed, and the achievement gap goal was amended to: “Decrease achievement gaps between groups of students in math and reading by increasing the percentage of each subgroup meeting college and career benchmarks.”

When asked if this would require that students in both the lower-performing subgroup and the higher-performing subgroup increase achievement, Superintendent Paul Goren said it did. Conceptually, to meet the goal of decreasing the achievement gap between African American students and white students, both African American students and white students would need to increase achievement, and African American students would need to grow at a faster pace to decrease the gap.

The Growth Targets

Administrators also recommended that the Board adopt specific five-year growth targets for three of the goals. For the first two goals, administrators recommended that the percentage of students meeting CRB and meeting expected gains in reading increase by 5 percentage points for math and 6.5 percentage points for reading over five years. They recommended that the percentage of students in the bottom quartile be decreased by 3.5 percentage points in math and by 2 percentage points in reading.

While Board members had discussed the targets at their Aug. 17 meeting, Richard Rykhus said on Sept. 21 that he struggled with the targets. “The targets in isolation don’t look particularly aggressive, and what really helped me were two things,’’ he said. First, he referred to a table prepared by Mr. Godard that extrapolated where the District would be if it continued on the same downward trend it experienced in the last four years. “That’s important context,” said Mr. Rykhus. “The targets are actually more aggressive than what these targets represent in isolation.”

Second, “We’re trying to drive systemic change,” he said. “We’re not trying to throw all the resources for a quick hit – to just try to put a patch on something. We’re really trying to build something, so that might mean some of the change looks a little slower that we might want, but it could have lasting, long-term impact.”

Ms. Quattrocki said, “I also think we are looking at this as a living document. If we do feel we are making more progress than expected, we would love to come back and revise the targets to be more aggressive.”

“Yes, it’s a living document,” said Dr. Goren. “Thank you for your comment, because we are suggesting a pivot from downward trends moving forward, based on everything that we put together in the strategic plan and everything we’ve worked on together as a Board, as an administration, as a community to move forward to invest in our kids.”

The Board voted 6-0 to approve the goals, as amended, and the growth targets.

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...