On Jan. 16, School District 65 administrators presented the District’s 2017 Achievement and Accountability Report which provides data showing how students have performed during the last four or five years on five different tests, which focused on different grade levels and subject areas. 

“Equity remains an urgent priority,” said Peter Godard, Chief Officer of Accountability, Equity & Organizational Development. “We are looking at multiple assessments, multiple grade levels, multiple content areas. Throughout all of that, the data we see is that students of color have lower assessment scores on all of those different measures, as compared to District averages and as compared to white students.

“We also see similar gaps for low-income students as compared to higher income students.

Superintendent Paul Goren said the data is “sobering” and the District has been attempting to improve achievement though early childhood programs, literacy work in the early grades, goal setting that goes on at the school level, and equity work. 

Mr. Godard said, “The work that is underway is already in consideration of the data we’re looking at tonight. While the data is sobering, they are not new to us. They have informed the work we’re doing this year and they inform our work as we go forward.”

Mr. Godard said the reports “continue our commitment to presenting information in a transparent way and using information as we think about driving improvements and where we focus our attention.”

He emphasized that the data needs to be looked at with a “lens for equity. … When aggregated data show that members of a particular demographic group score below benchmarks, these outcomes reflect opportunity gaps faced by marginalized groups due to institutional racism in the education system and, for many families, a lack of social and economic supports. These results should not be used to draw conclusions about the efforts or abilities of these students or their families.”

This article focuses on three academic measures: kindergarten readiness, on track to college readiness, and meeting annual growth targets.

Gaps Exists at Kindergarten

Mr. Godard said the percentage of all incoming students meeting kindergarten readiness standards on the Illinois Snapshot of Early Learning (ISEL) declined from 58% in the fall of 2016 to 55% in the fall of 2017.

 According to the Report, there is a gap in the percentage of students who are kindergarten ready by both race and income. In the fall of 2017:

• 34% of the District’s Black students and 39% of the District’s Hispanic students were kindergarten ready, compared to 68% of the District’s White students,

• 34% of the District’s students from low-income households were kindergarten ready, compared to 65% of students from other households. 

The District defines “kindergarten ready” as scoring above the 50th percentile in at least four of the five areas assessed on ISEL: alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, one-to-one matching, letter sounds, and story listening. Mr. Godard cautioned, however, that ISEL does not capture the full array of skills that are associated with readiness for kindergarten.

Board member Candance Chow asked if the District could break out the data to show how incoming kindergartners who attended the District’s Joseph E. Hill Childhood Center were doing, compared to students who participated in other programs, and she and other Board members asked for additional achievement data relating to the District’s early childhood programs.

Mr. Godard said Black students from low-income households who attended JEH had “higher proficiency rates on the ISEL assessment” than students who were Black and from low-income households who attended other programs. He said it was difficult to do some other analyses because the District lacked data sharing agreements with other early childhood providers.

District 65’s early childhood programs include home visits and center-based programs and are designed to help ensure that students are prepared for kindergarten in not only the literacy skills measured by ISEL, but holistically in many additional areas. The District has convened a committee to provide recommendations on how to improve its early childhood program.

Percent Meeting College Readiness Benchmarks

The Report provides the percentage of third- through eighth-graders who are on track to college readiness, using benchmark scores in reading and math identified for the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test in a 2015 study conducted by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the owner of the MAP test. A student who scores at the benchmark scores in reading or math is predicted to have a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in a related subject in freshman year of college.

On a nationwide basis, approximately 36% of the students taking MAP meet the college readiness benchmarks in reading, and 32% in math.

The accompanying charts break down the data by race and income. They show, on a composite basis, the percentage of Black, Hispanic, White, and low-income third- through eighth-graders at District 65 who are on track to college readiness in reading (Figure 1) and math (Figure 2) on the Spring MAP tests for the years 2013-2017.

The charts show there were slight declines or increases for each of the subgroups in 2017 compared to 2016, but there have been relatively significant declines for all subgroups since 2013. In addition, there are wide gaps in college readiness by race/ethnicity and low-income status. For example, in 2017:

• 84% of White students met college readiness benchmarks in reading, compared to 31% of Black students, and

• 28% of the students who were from low-income households were on track to college readiness in reading, compared with 79% of the students who were from non-low-income households. 

The wide gap in achievement by race/ethnicity may be due in part to differences in opportunity associated with household income. 

In prior reports, the District reported that in the 2016-17 school year, 77% of the District’s Black students, 67% of the District’s Hispanic students, and about 7% of the District’s White students were from low-income families, defined as being on free- or reduced-fee lunch.

In addition, 70% of the District’s Black students qualified for free lunch, meaning they were from households that earned less than 130% of the poverty line.

In an attempt to assess the impact of race and income, the Report provides data showing the percentage of Black, Hispanic and White students, disaggregated by income, who were on track to college readiness in reading on the 2017 Spring MAP test. The table below shows that data.

For each group, low-income students scored lower than non-low income students. The table also shows, though, that there is a gap between Black, Hispanic, and White students within each income level. For example, 51% of the Black students and 63% of Hispanic students from non-low-income households met college readiness standards in reading, compared to 85% of White students from non-low-income households.

The Report, however, does not analyze the extent to which the difference may be due to degrees of wealth and opportunities or due to institutional racism in education at District 65, as indicated by Mr. Godard. In a 2013 essay entitled “No Rich Child Left Behind,” Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, noted that a household’s degree of wealth and the opportunities it affords may make a significant difference. He says, “The rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor.”

Making Expected Gains – Showing Growth

One of the Board’s goals is that students will on an annual basis make “expected gains” on the MAP test. The table below shows there was a significant decline in the percentage of Black, Hispanic, White, and low-income students who made expected gains in reading on the 2017 Spring MAP test, compared to 2016.

In math, Black, Hispanic, and low-income students showed significant declines. White students showed a gain. 

 While the percentages vary by subgroup, the gap in Black and Hispanic students making expected gains compared to White students has been relatively small in reading, with larger differences in math, particularly in 2017.

To meet expected gains in 2017, students must have increased their score on the 2017 Spring MAP test above their score on the 2016 Spring MAP test by an amount determined by NWEA. 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 2015 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 both test scores. As an example, Mr. Godard previously explained if the increase from one year to the next determined by NWEA was 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.

While the above table does not indicate how District 65 students grew in relation to other students in the nation, the Report provides data showing how District 65’s students have grown compared to other students in the nation by including the percentile rank of what is called the “average conditional growth index” of District 65 students by grade level. As an example, if the percentile rank of the average CGI of District 65 fourth graders in reading is 31, that means that District 65 fourth graders grew more in reading than 31% of the fourth graders in the nation. The table below shows the percentile rank of the average CGI for District 65 students in the 2016 – 2017 school year:

Next Steps

The accompanying articles on this page summarize some steps being taken by District 65 to improve Black and Hispanic students’ achievement. In addition, at the School Board’s Jan. 22 meeting, administrators presented a “2018 Strategy, Equity Reflection” that discusses strategies currently underway to achieve “excellent academic outcomes for all students, and improving historically lower test scores among students of color.”

 The RoundTable will report on the strategies in more detail in a subsequent issue of the paper.

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...