Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 


One key achievement goal that the District 65 School Board has adopted is to increase the percentage of students who are on track to college readiness. We strongly support that goal.

To measure the percentage of students who are on track to college readiness, the idea is to identify and use benchmark cut scores at the third- through-eighth grades that reasonably predict whether a third  through eighth grade student will meet the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks toward the end of high school. The ACT’s college readiness benchmark scores are a 22 in both reading and math. Those benchmarks predict whether a student will have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher in a related freshman year college course, or a 75% chance of obtaining a C.

Obviously this is not an exact science.

We think, though, that the District has set college-readiness benchmarks that are too high and thus understates the percentage of students who are on track to college readiness.

The District is using benchmarks identified through two studies. The first is a linking study published by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in 2011 which linked eighth-graders’ scores on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to college readiness benchmark scores of the EXPLORE test (an ACT-based test).  NWEA is the owner of the MAP test. The second is a paper by presented by Robert Theaker and Clay S. Johnson in 2012. Theaker and Johnson identified benchmark scores for third- through-eighth-graders on the MAP test linked to the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. At the time, Mr. Theaker was a senior research associate of NWEA. These studies are collectively referred to as the 2012 Study.

District 65 administrators have decided not to use the college readiness benchmark scores identified in a more recent 2015 study by Yeow Meng Thum and Tyler Matta. That study identified MAP scores for fifth-through-eighth-graders that are linked to ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. Dr. Thum is a senior research fellow at NWEA. This study is referred to as the 2015 Study.

The college readiness benchmark scores identified through the 2012 Study are consistently higher than the benchmark scores identified in the 2015 Study. The benchmark scores identified through the 2012 study correspond on average to the 82nd percentile in math and the 73rd percentile in reading. The benchmarks for the 2015 Study correspond to the 68th percentile in math and the 63rd percentile in reading.

Because the benchmarks scores identified in the 2015 Study are lower, more students will be deemed college ready under the 2015 Study than 2012 Study. The table below shows the difference.

Significantly, NWEA recommends that the college readiness benchmark scores for the MAP tests that are identified in the 2015 Study be used, rather than those identified in the 2012 Study. Dr. Thum told the RoundTable, “The 2015 study should be used. It employed more representative data and better analytical techniques that results in more valid and reliable results.”

The RoundTable has previously published a lengthy analysis of the two studies and we will not repeat that here. But we do note that on a nationwide basis, the benchmarks identified in the 2012 Study predict that only 18% of the students in the nation will meet the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in math and 27% in reading. These percentages 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.

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

While not a scientific analysis, this suggests that the benchmarks in the 2012 Study fail to meet the good old-fashioned smell test, and that those in the 2015 Study are more reasonable.

Locally, District 65 reported that 39.1% of its students met college readiness benchmarks in math on the 2015 Spring MAP tests, using the MAP benchmark scores identified in the 2012 Study. In contrast, ETHS reported that 60.8% of its 2015 graduating seniors met college readiness benchmarks in math on the ACT. That is a difference of 21.7 percentage points. One explanation is the benchmark scores for college readiness identified in the 2012 Study are too high.

We appreciate that District 65 and District 202 administrators have carefully studied this issue, have listened to our concerns and made a thoughtful analysis. We respectfully disagree. In our view, and that of NWEA, the cut scores identified in the 2015 Study should be used.