Historically School District 65 used college readiness benchmarks (CRB) for third-  through eighth-graders identified by a researcher employed by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) for the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test in a 2012 study. NWEA is the owner of the MAP test. The benchmarks, on average, corresponded to the 82nd percentile for math and the 71st percentile for reading.

In July 2015, NWEA published a study that identified new benchmark scores for college readiness for fifth through eighth grades that are lower than those identified in the 2012 study.  On average, the new benchmarks correspond to the 68th percentile for math and the 63rd percentile for reading.

While the studies identified different MAP scores that indicate college readiness, each study was attempting to identify scores that would predict that a student had a 50% chance of earning a B in freshman year of college.

Dr. Yeow Meng Thum, one of the authors of the 2015 study, told the RoundTable that NWEA recommends that the college readiness benchmark scores identified in the 2015 Study be used, rather than those identified in the 2012 Study. He said the 2015 study “employed more representative data and better analytical techniques that results in more valid and reliable results.”

At the Aug. 29 School Board meeting, Peter Godard, Chief Officer of Research, Accountability and Data, told Board members that the administration  recommended that the District shift to using the college readiness benchmarks identified in the 2015 Study because the 2015 Study “is based on more rigorous research” and controls for a problem not controlled for in the earlier study.

The benchmark scores for college readiness identified in the 2015 Study are more in line with those identified by Paul Zavitkovsky of the Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, to be used with the Illinois Standard Achievement Test.  The benchmark scores he identified for the ISATs corresponded to the 68th percentile in math and the 60th percentile in reading.

Mr. Godard also recommended that the District use NWEA’s 2015 norm study, rather than NWEA’s 2011 norm study, to calculate the percent of students making expected gains on MAP and to calculate the percent of students below the 25th percentile.  He said this would ensure that the District’s performance measures “are based on the latest and most statistically rigorous research.”

Board member Claudia Garrison raised questions about lowering the benchmark scores for college readiness, which correspond on average to the 68th percentile in math and the 63rd in reading. “So 35% of students do better than I do and I am still college-ready,” she said. “Is it that colleges are also lowering their standards?”

“Let me be clear about what a definition of college-readiness means,” said Mr. Godard, “With that score, the student has a 75% chance of getting a C and a 50% chance of getting a B in freshman year of college.”

“So college-readiness is getting a passing grade in the first year of college?” asked Ms. Garrison.

 “I think it is a prudent change,” said Board member Jennifer Phillips.

Board President Candance Chow said, “I think the most compelling argument [for accepting the recommended changes] is that they make it more true to the population we have. While I think we should be rigorous in setting very high expectations, we also need to be realistic around what are the right numbers for us and [about] setting the right targets.”

In answer to a question by Board member Richard Rykhus, Mr. Godard said, “It is very common for testing companies to update their norms every five to seven years.” In regard to college-readiness benchmarks, he said, “The 2015 study was commissioned by the vendor and was done with a higher degree of transparency and rigor.”

The Board unanimously approved the recommendations.

In a Jan. 27, 2016, editorial, the RoundTable supported adopting the college readiness benchmarks identified in the 2015 Study.

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...