On Jan. 25, District 65 administrators presented the 2015 Achievement and Accountability Report that presents data showing how students have performed on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test given in the spring of the last four years. The Report does not consider scores on the PARCC assessment in its analysis.

“It’s a sobering report,” said Paul Goren who became superintendent at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. The Report shows a downward trend in achievement for the school years ending in the spring of 2012, 2013, and 2014. But Dr. Goren said, “There is a flattening in some scores and a slight uptick especially around expected gains. That’s something we’re looking at and hoping to leverage as we move forward to really make a difference in kids’ lives.”

Peter Godard, director of research, accountability and data for the District, said there were four “headlines” he would take away from the report:

• The decreasing trend in student achievement flattened out between 2014 and 2015;

• The percent of students making expected gains increased between 2014 and 2015;

• A large performance gap based on household income and race/ethnicity remains; and,

• The gap in student academic growth is very small in comparison to the gap in student performance.

The Report provides data showing whether the District is making progress toward meeting the Board’s four goals: 1) increase the percent of students on track to college readiness in reading and math; 2) decrease the percent of students in the bottom quartile in reading and math; 3) increase the percent of students meeting “expected gains” in math and reading; and 4) decrease the achievement gap between groups of students in math and reading by improving performance of all subgroups.

Administrators also presented a Preliminary Report on Black Student Achievement in District 65, which provides data in response to a request made by Terri Shepard on behalf of the Evanston chapter of the NAACP and other organizations and individuals.

The Gap Exists at Kindergarten

Mr. Godard began his presentation discussing kindergarten readiness. He said only 53% of students entering kindergarten in 2015 were “kindergarten ready,” down from 61% in 2012. He said kindergarten ready is provisionally defined by the District as scoring above the 50th percentile on at least four of the five snapshots of the Illinois Snapshot of Early Learning (ISEL) that assess a child’s foundational skills in literacy. He said this analysis has not been validated as predictive of future student performance, nor does it capture the full array of skills that are associated with readiness for kindergarten.

The Joint District 65/202 Achievement Report presented last fall reported that 33% of black students and 23% of Hispanic students were kindergarten ready in 2015, compared to 75% white students. Only 26% of students from a low-income household are kindergarten ready, compared to 72% of other students.

There is “a wide gap between foundational literacy skills of students living in low-income households and those living in higher-income households,” says the Report. “This gap persists throughout elementary and middle school, and it is even more pronounced for black and Hispanic students living in low-income households.”

% Meeting College Readiness Benchmarks

The Report, in an appendix, provides the percentage of fifth- through eighth-graders who are on track to college readiness using two different benchmarks: 1) those identified in a 2011 Study for the MAP test, and 2) those identified in a 2015 Study for the MAP test. See sidebar.

The benchmarks identified in the 2011 Study correspond on average to the 82nd percentile in math and the 73rd in reading. The benchmarks for the 2015 Study correspond to the 68th percentile in math and the 63rd in reading. The Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, recommends that the benchmarks identified in the 2015 Study be used.

The charts below show, on a composite basis, the percentage of black, Hispanic, and white fifth- through eighth-graders at District 65 who are on track to college readiness using the benchmarks identified 1) in the 2011 Study and 2) in the 2015 Study. Because the benchmarks identified in the 2015 Study are lower, higher percentages of students are viewed as college ready using those benchmarks. There is a wide gap in achievement under either study.

On a nationwide basis, the benchmarks identified in the 2011 Study predicts that only 18% of the students in the nation will meet the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in math and 27% in reading in junior or senior year in high school. These predictions are much lower than the actual percentages of students who meet the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. In 2015, 40% of Illinois’ high schoolers met ACT’s college readiness benchmark in math and 39% in reading.

For purposes of comparison, the 2015 Study predicts that 32% of students nationwide will meet ACT’s benchmarks for college readiness in math and 40% in reading.

The District decided to report longitudinal data relating to college readiness using only the benchmarks from the 2011 Study. It reports:

• For math, the percent of third- through eighth-grade students who are on track to college readiness (above the 82nd percentile) declined from 41.1 % to 39.4% between 2012 and 2014, and then showed a slight drop to 39.1% in 2015. The biggest decline was a 6 percentage point drop for white students during the four year period.

• For reading, the percent of third- through eighth-graders who are on track to college readiness (above the 73rd percentile) declined from 54.8% to 49.5% between 2012 and 2014 and then increased to 49.8% in 2015. During the four-year period, the percentages declined by 4.5 points for black students, 8.2 points for Hispanic students, and 8.3 points for white students.

The wide gap in achievement by ethnicity may be due in part to differences in opportunity associated with household income, as well as the increased challenges faced by children living in poverty. The most recent data available shows that 79% of the District’s black students were from low-income households (measured by free- and reduced-fee lunch status), and 70% of Hispanic students were from low-income households. By contrast, 7% of white students were from low-income households. Other factors contributing to the gap may include that 18% of black and 14% of Hispanic students have disabilities warranting an Individual Education Program (IEP), compared to 8% of white students; and 36% of Hispanic students are English language learners (ELL).

At/Above 50th Percentile

The Report provides the percent of students, by subgroup, who scored in each decile (e.g. those between the 40th and 50th percentiles, etc.) on the MAP test for 2014 and 2015. The RoundTable used this data to compute the percent of students who scored above the 50th national percentile. District 65 has previously used the 50th percentile as an indication of grade level performance. In addition, ETHS admits students into the earned honors freshman humanities program if they test over the 40th percentile and into the freshman biology program if they test over the 50th percentile.

The table below shows the percent of students, by subgroup, who scored at/above the 50th percentile in math and reading on MAP in 2014 and 2015. There are large gaps in the achievement between ethnic groups, again which may be influenced in part due to household income and ELL status.

The main differences between 2014 and 2015 are for Hispanic students, who declined 6 points in math and gained 9 points in reading.

Like virtually every other school district in the nation, the gap in achievement has persisted in District 65 for many years. Analyzing the percent of students who score at/above the 50th percentile amongst all Illinois students taking the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) provides a consistent benchmark to measure achievement over time. The charts below reflect the percent of District 65 third- through eighth-graders who scored at/above the 50th Illinois percentile in reading and math on the 2006 through 2014 ISATs.

% in Bottom Quartile

The percent of students in the bottom quartile increased slightly in math and more so in reading. In reading the percent of black students in the bottom quartile increased by 9 percentage points and for Hispanic students by 6 points. The table below gives the trends.

Meeting Growth Targets

One of the Board’s goals is to meet “expected gains” on the MAP test. To meet expected gains, a student must earn a higher score on the spring MAP test than the average score of students in a national sample who started out the school-year in the same grade with the same MAP score. On a nationwide basis, approximately 50% of the students meet expected gain using this approach.

In addition, though, District 65 has added an extra criterion: a student’s gain must be greater than the sum of the standard errors on both the pre- and post-test scores. Mr. Godard said the District added this criterion because “we don’t want to give ourselves credit for a student having made gains if their gains are statistically the same as neutral or maybe even negative.”

The table below gives the percent of students by subgroup who made expected gains in math and reading in the last four years. There were declines for all groups between 2012 and 2014 and then a flattening out or an increase in 2015 (except for Hispanic students in math).

Mr. Godard said that while the results were different for each subgroup, “Our students are growing at similar rates. But to close the achievement gap, we have to accelerate student growth.”

Impact of Low-Income

In line with nationwide data, there is a large performance gap at District 65 related to household income. For example, on the 2015 MAP test, 20% of students who are eligible for free- or reduced-fee lunch were on track to college readiness in reading (the 73rd percentile), compared with 70% of students who were not low–income.

The data shows that the degree of poverty also makes a difference. The Report indicates that 18.8% of students who were eligible for “free” lunch (below 130% of the poverty line) met the college readiness benchmarks in reading, compared to 32.9% of students who were eligible for “reduced fee” lunch (between 130% and 180% of the poverty line), and compared with 69.6% of students who not low-income .

Significantly, this year 2,731 students, or 37% of all students at District 65, are from low-income households, measured by those who qualify for free- or reduced-fee lunch. Of those, 2,252 students, or almost one-third of District 65’s student body, qualify for the free-lunch program, indicating a higher level of poverty. 

The data, however, shows that low-income status is not the only explanation for the achievement gap at District 65. For example, higher percentages of non-low income black students met college readiness benchmarks in reading (the 73rd percentile) than low-income black students. But the percentage of non-low income black students who were on track to college readiness in reading was still lower than the percentage of non-low income white students who were on track to college readiness in reading.

The table below gives the percentage of black, Hispanic and white students, disaggregated by income, who were on track to college readiness in reading on the 2015 MAP test.

The District’s plans to address the achievement gap and increase achievement of students and School Board members’ comments on student achievement are contained in the accompanying article, starting on this page.

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...