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On Feb. 13, the District 65 and District 202 School Boards listened to a presentation about the difficulty of identifying benchmarks for “college readiness” that would be aligned between the two Districts and enable the Districts to monitor progress in meeting their Joint Literacy Goal that was adopted in January 2015. The Districts reached a way to do this last March, by using the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test at District 65 and the ACT test at Evanston Township High School, but in the interim the State shifted from using the ACT to the SAT.

The Joint Literacy Goal provides “District 65 and District 202 will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”

The plan is to identify benchmarks that would enable the Districts to monitor  whether students are on track to college readiness starting at kindergarten and continuing through 12th grade. This requires that the benchmarks for college readiness used by District 65 and District 202 are aligned. The alignment is critical so the Districts can jointly assess where students are when they leave District 65, and whether any shifts at ETHS are due to shifts in student achievement, rather than to differences  in the benchmarks used to measure college readiness. 

Going forward, District 65 plans to report progress in meeting college readiness using the MAP test. In 2015, the Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, conducted a study and identified college readiness benchmarks for the MAP test that are aligned with college readiness benchmarks as defined by the ACT. The ACT defines college readiness as having a 50% chance of obtaining a B in freshman year in college.

The NWEA’s 2015 study reflects that the benchmark scores for college readiness in reading on MAP correspond, on average, to the 63th national percentile.

Going forward, ETHS plans to report progress in meeting college readiness using the SAT. In 2016, the College Board, the owner of the SAT, identified college readiness benchmarks for the SAT. The College Board has defined college readiness as having a 75% chance of obtaining a C in freshman year college.

A College Board report reflects that its college readiness benchmark for reading corresponds to the 41st  national percentile.

In a memo to the School Boards, Peter Godard, Chief Officer of Research, Accountability, and Data, and Carrie Levy, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment, said before preparing a joint report on college readiness  between kindergarten and 12th grade, “The Districts need to ensure that our definitions of College Readiness Benchmarks were aligned. This is a complex task because no resources exist to crosswalk or predict scores between MAP and SAT or PSAT.”

Mr. Godard said the college readiness benchmarks for the MAP test and the SAT test are not aligned, adding that the college readiness benchmark for the MAP test seemed to set at “a much higher benchmark than that’s set for the SAT.”

Mr. Godard said he and Dr. Levy also explored whether they could identify benchmark scores on the MAP test that would align to the college readiness benchmark score on the SAT test, but said they were not able to do so in a reliable way.

Tracy Quattrocki, a member of the District 65 Board, posed another question: whether the Boards wanted to align to the lower benchmark adopted for the SAT or the higher benchmark of MAP. She said the SAT college readiness benchmark is at the 40th or 41st percentile, and the MAP is at about the 60-68th percentile. “Do we really move down to the 40th percentile in order to align to the SAT?”  she asked.

Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 202, said that District 202 “will be bound to report the SAT college readiness benchmarks and it will be bound to call it that … The question becomes do we report two college readiness benchmarks for reading or how do we reconcile between electing a middle school measure – which is very far removed from college readiness – to a high school measure which is nationally reported for college readiness?”

Mr. Godard said the Districts have engaged the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University to provide guidance on how an aligned measurement system can be developed. As a back-up plan, Mr. Godard suggested that an alternative measurement system could be developed along the lines discussed at the joint Board meeting last fall.

The Boards concurred with that approach.


SAT Lowers the Bar for College Readiness

In 2016, the College Board revised the SAT and changed its definition of college readiness. Before then, the College Board defined college readiness as the SAT score at which a student had a 65% chance of obtaining a B- in freshman year college. In 2016, the College Board changed the benchmark to the SAT score at which a student has a 75% of obtaining a C.

A study conducted by the College Board, “SAT Content Area Benchmarks” (2012) shows that shifting to having a 75% chance of earning a C significantly lowered the bar. That study (based on the SAT’s test and scoring system prior to 2016) reports that a student needed a score of 500 in SAT Critical Reading to have a 65% chance of obtaining a B-, but only a score of 370 to have a 75% chance of obtaining a C in college. The difference between the two definitions was 130 SAT points.

One explanation is that a C is a relatively low grade in college. An extensive study of grading practices at more than 135 four-year colleges with more than 1.5 million students found that 43% of the grades given were As, 33.8% were Bs, 14.9% were Cs, 4.1% were Ds, and 4.2% were Fs. See “Where A Is Ordinary: the Evolution of American College and University Grading 1940-2009.” An update to that study found that in 2013, the average college student had a GPA of 3.15.

In addition, in most colleges, a GPA of 2.0 is the borderline between passing and failing.

The new SAT benchmark sets a lower bar.

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...