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Approximately 59% of incoming freshmen at Evanston Township High School scored at or above a grade-level equivalent score of 8.3 in reading on the STAR test, according to a report presented at the Jan. 14 District 202 School Board meeting.

A grade-level-equivalent score of 8.3 means a student scored as well on the STAR reading test as a “typical” student in the third month of eighth grade. Put another way, about 41% of students leave School District 65 not reading at expected proficiency levels, according to the STAR test.

On top of what was called “alarming” findings by the District 202 administration, the report also indicates that current placement assessments may be under-identifying students who need reading support when they enter ETHS. 

Scott Bramley, District 202 Associate Principal for Instruction and Literacy, and Kiwana Brown, Reading Specialist, presented specifics on reading proficiency data and current intervention programs as related to the School District 65’s and 202’s Joint Literacy Goal adopted in 2014.

“My take away: I don’t see a lot of predictive ability when it comes to the fact that we have different analytics and different assessments,” said Mr. Bramley.  “That’s our great challenge in terms of our overall data is how do we continue to measure a joint goal with two different measures.”

Data presented showed the results for incoming freshmen between the Fall of 2014 and Fall of 2018 on the STAR test (given to freshmen at ETHS) and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test (given to 8th graders at District 65). The STAR data show the percentage of freshmen who scored at or above a grade-level equivalent score of 8.3, while MAP data show the percentage of eighth-graders who scored above the 50th percentile on the Fall, Winter or Spring MAP test for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and who scored above a RIT score of 220 for the years 2017 and 2018. A score of 220 equates to the 50th percentile for the Spring eighth-grade MAP test.

The data for the fall  of 2014 show that 58% of all ETHS freshmen were found to be proficient in reading on the STAR test, while 79% were viewed as proficient using the MAP test. In the fall of 2018, those numbers were 60% for STAR and 84% for MAP.

Broken out by race, 32% of Black students were proficient in 2014 and 38% proficient in 2018 on the STAR test, and 59%  were proficient in 2014 and 66% were proficient in 2018 on MAP.  Latino/Hispanic students went from 38% to 35% proficient on STAR,  and from 61% to 66% on MAP during the same period.  White students’ scores went from 82% to 80% proficient on STAR, and from 96% to 95% proficient on MAP.

The charts below illustrate the different results between the STAR and MAP tests and the five-year trends.

Not only are these numbers “relatively flat,” as pointed out by Board member Gretchen Livingston, but they lead to questions as to whether all students who show reading deficiencies are being identified.

“This is not acceptable,” said Board member Mark Metz, pointing out the difference in findings between MAP and STAR.

The “crux,” said Mr. Bramley, is that the true need is likely closer to the STAR findings but the District uses MAP to identify incoming freshmen who need reading supports. 

“We cannot go on this way, said Board member Jonathan Baum, referencing the continuous struggle the two Districts have had over assessments. “I don’t know who’s right, maybe we need some mediation between the Districts, but we cannot go on this way.”

Given a choice, District 202 would choose STAR over MAP, said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. MAP is not usable in high school; it is not normed to high school students, while STAR is normed to all grades, he said. STAR also offers advanced reports and individualized instructions for teachers, which is an advantage over MAP, he said.

Revisions Made to Reading Supports

 “In order to meet the increasing variety of students’ reading comprehension needs, the structure, placement and curriculum for the reading intervention program were revised,” said Mr. Bramley.

These revisions, as spelled out in the report, included a shift to eliminating barriers to access for students enrolled in reading intervention through special education, refining placement by using MAP RIT scores versus percentile ranks, implementing a flexible-grouping model, and identifying power literacy standards for the course, and standards-referenced reporting of grades.

Ms. Brown talked about flexible grouping, where students begin the course together and then are placed into sections of the course based on their performance on the STAR test.

The system is “more responsive to student needs and growth” and does not focus on a deficit model, she said. Students drive the material.

The change is showing signs of success with the course shifting from one in which the grade equivalent range was second to eighth grades, or six years, with all students in the same class, to one in which approximately four to eight students are in the class and the grade equivalent range is one to one-and-a-half years, according to the report.

“We are seeing students moving the needle and growing, getting individual instruction that focuses on their needs,” said Ms. Brown.

Standards-referenced grading is where no letter grade is given, but instead progress is aligned with goals and needs which helps students “take more ownership,” said Ms. Brown. 

Ms. Brown also talked about a new Literacy Lab where teachers work one-on-one with students in both District 202 and District 65.

Summer reading loss continues to be a focus. Evanston Cradle to Career has put an emphasis on this issue, said Dr. Witherspoon. It is “still not mitigating all of our issues, but the City’s effort is increasing reading, and we know the best way to increase reading scores is to read.”  Summer courses and camps are “literacy infused,” with an increase in activities such as “Drop everything and read.”

“In a lot of school districts we would not be talking about this or putting resources toward these efforts,” said Mr. Bramley at the conclusion of his report.

The Joint Reading Goal was discussed at a Joint District 65/202 Committee meeting on Jan 16.  For more on that meeting, click on article below.