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On Feb. 6, School District 65 administrators and Board members discussed the District’s 2016 Achievement and Accountability Report.

 “The exciting and important take-away here is that you set clear goals and strategies,” Peter Godard, Director of Research, Accountability and Assessment, told Board members. “We’ve had some time to work on implementation of the plan. We’re really beginning to see some positive results.”

One highlight is there have been significant increases in the percentages of students meeting their annual “expected growth” targets during the last two years, said Mr. Godard.  In the last two years, the percentage of black students meeting expected growth targets increased by 11 percentage points in both  math and reading. The increase for Hispanic students has been 4 points in math and 8 in reading. For white students the increase was 9 points in math and 11 in reading. The table below shows the trends.

“Despite that increased growth, we’re not seeing a robust change in the percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks,” said Mr. Godard. The table below shows the percentage of third- through eighth-graders who have met college-readiness benchmarks on the 2013-16 MAP tests.

While the percentages vary by subgroup, “the gap in black and Hispanic students making expected gains compared to white students is relatively small compared to the gap in the percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks in reading and math,” said Mr. Godard.

In essence, black, Hispanic, and low-income students are making gains each year, but their growth is not accelerated to close the achievement gap.

 Board Members Reactions

On a Districtwide basis, 44% of the District’s students are not meeting college readiness benchmarks in math, and 38% in reading. Regardless of the gains in the percentages meeting student growth targets, “we still have a high percentage of students who are not meeting college readiness benchmarks,” said Board member Claudia Garrison.

“I think we’re moving to a point here, when we have to start analyzing what we’re doing to address that 44% or 38%. What are we doing for them? Then somehow have a report that shows whether that’s making a difference, because I know our teachers work really, really hard. I know we have excellent, excellent teachers, but this just seems to sit there and we’re stuck with it. It’s too many.

Ms. Chow said, “We’re not where we need to be in terms of college and career readiness benchmarks. But to connect it to the growth piece … We have to way outpace growth for kids who are not meeting college readiness benchmarks to get to that level.”

“We’ve seen this 10% or 8 or 9% increase in growth among that group which is very sizeable,” said Ms. Garrison. “But the reality is we need to ramp it up even more to hit that threshold of college readiness benchmarks.”

Ms. Chow said one factor is the District has not invested in a strategy that focuses on students who are “on the cusp” of reaching college readiness, to get them over the cusp to improve the percentages. Instead, she said, “We’ve invested in a strategy that focuses on our most striving, our most struggling learners to move them up and keep moving them up.”

“I think by design, it’s going to take longer to meet the college readiness benchmarks for those kids. I believe it’s absolutely the right way to go about it, because otherwise you’re working on a cusp strategy that doesn’t’ get to the full breadth of students who really do need access to additional opportunities at the high school and get them to a point where they can do that.”

To participate in the freshman earned honors program in literacy at Evanston Township High School, students must be at or above the 40th percentile in reading on the MAP test.

“We aren’t where we need to be, but the growth increases are extremely promising, and we just have to figure out how fast does that growth have to happen for those kids to reach the college readiness benchmarks,” said Ms. Chow.

 The Sense of Urgency

Board member Suni Kartha said, “While I think we should applaud the increase in students making expected gains, for me it’s very much tempered, and I think probably for all of us, it’s very much tempered, by the fact that the percent of black students who meet college readiness benchmarks in reading is only 33.2% and 23.5% in math, and for Hispanic students, 38.5% and 34.5%.

“So even though we’re making gains, it’s still clearly not anywhere, for these students, where we need to be. It just points to urgency. We need to look at systems and what we need to be looking at in terms of change to make sure we’re servicing these students better.

 “I hear about a lot of programmatic changes – sort of the long-term and I think that’s great. I don’t think we focus enough on what are we going to do right now. ”

Board member Anya Tanyavutti, said, “I know it’s important for us to celebrate gains and celebrate progress, but these numbers are jarring and they’re still difficult to accept. … I think we actually need a sense of urgency.

“When we look at the achievement gap, which is often associated with an actual opportunity gap, that is an institutional issue,” continued Ms. Tanyavutti. “It is not an individual issue. … I don’t question anyone’s integrity in doing this very difficult work. But we clearly have, and any institutions have, contributing factors to this gap.”

She suggested the District analyze, “how we’re impacting institutional change.”

Ms. Chow said, throughout the year, the Board talks about proactive strategies, the implementation of the strategies of the strategic plan, the work going on the classrooms, the work around professional development, and the work around culturally responsive instruction and equity. 

She said focusing on student growth was critical because there is only one way to significantly increase the percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks, and that is, “You have to have super high growth for kids.”

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said, “I find the report to be so helpful and so nuanced. It should inform all our work. It should really inform everything we do in making decisions.” 

Stacy Beardsley, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, said a lot of the achievement data comes out in the fall, and, “The curriculum and instructional teams look at it and think about it in the work they’re doing. “We try to weave it into our work as it becomes available.”

“We need to keep pushing because if we can get kids to exceed their expected gains, we’re going to close the gap toward college readiness,” she said.

John Price, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said, “I would urge the Board to not only communicate a sense of urgency, but also a sense of patience for the right strategies that are going to take time to work well. I think we’ve seen some really immediate results like growth and moving students from below the 25th percentile. I think that work needs to be celebrated at the Board and in the classrooms and in the schools, because when people are demoralized people quit. I think we need to communicate a growth mindset, about what we can accomplish. But getting to where we need to be on college and career benchmarks is going to take time.”

Dr. Goren said the District is doing things “today” in pre-K through third grade in literacy, including changing the way the teachers are teaching reading; the District is enhancing its efforts on social and emotional learning; it is continuing equity training; and it is implementing the strategies in its five-year strategic plan.

“I really like the nudge, the ‘today’ with the ‘long-term,’ without sacrificing either. I think it’s really important to do the today work and get things going every day that we show up in this office, as we do in all 18 of our schools.

“I do worry that we will do things that will look like or become ‘won and done.’ It happens across American education. Get that big splash. We’re focused on x or y or z. We show it up, and then boom it disappears.

“Part of how I look at my job is to actually think about how we build the infrastructure to do the longer-term stuff while we’re doing today. We live that on a day-to-day basis, as do our principals, our teachers.

College-Readiness Benchmarks

In a 2015 study, the Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, identified benchmark scores for fifth- through eighth-graders that indicate whether students are on track to college readiness (defined as having a 50% chance of obtaining a B in freshman year college). On average, the benchmarks are at the 63rd national percentile for reading and the 68th for math.  This means that about 37% of students in the nation are expected to meet the benchmarks for reading, and 32% in math.Board member Tracy Quattrocki said when she started out on the Board eight years ago, District 65 was using “meeting standards” on the ISATs as the measure of success. The meet standards benchmark corresponded to about the 22nd national percentile. Meeting Expected GainsTo meet expected gains, students must increase their score on the current year’s Spring MAP test above their score on the prior year’s Spring MAP test by an amount determined by the Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test. The increase is essentially the average growth of students in the nation who are in the same grade level and who started out with the same prior year’s Spring 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 increase determined by NWEA, plus the sum of the standard errors of the current year’s and prior year’s tests. As an example, said Mr. Godard, if the increase from one year to the next determined by NWEA is 8 points, and the standard error on each test was 3 points, District 65 would calculate the student’s growth target by adding 8+3+3= 14. This is a much more rigorous standard than used by NWEA, said Mr. Godard.