On Jan. 28, School District 65 administrators presented the District’s 2018 Achievement and Accountability Report, which provides data showing how students have performed during the last four years on four different tests.

“Opportunity gaps persist between students of color and White students; between low-income students and high-income students; and for students with IEPs [an Individualized Education Plan],” said Kylie Klein, Director of Research, Accountability, and Data.

“Equity remains an urgent priority,” she said.

Superintendent Paul Goren said, “The data information, as such, are a clarion call to all District 65 educators to focus our work to improving outcomes, especially outcomes of kids of color and those from historically marginalized backgrounds.”

He said administrators, principals and teachers have used the data in preparing for this school year. “We have trained all of our educators in Beyond Diversity, we’ve focused on relevant culturally teaching practices, we have explored new ways to intervene and assess our literacy in the early grades, we’ve asked our teachers to make sure specific [intervention] plans for students who are below the 25th percentile are in place, and we have focused our principals on mid-year data reviews,” he said.

The School Board adopted four academic goals as part of the five-year Strategic Plan it adopted in March 2015: increase the percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks, increase the percent of students making expected gains, decrease the percent of students in the bottom quartile naionally, and decrease the opportunity gaps between demographic groups. 

This article focuses on the District’s progress in meeting each of those goals, and also includes data regarding kindergarten readiness and literacy during the K-3 years, which the District has made a priority. The baseline year for assessing progress under the Strategic Plan is 2014-15. This article at times includes prior years for additional context.    

Gaps Increasing at Kindergarten

Ms. Klein said, “One of the highlights in the report that I think is really important for us to think about and talk about as a community is the early elementary outcome data. We have seen some positive things here, but also some things that give us pause for doubling down in our efforts.”

Ms. Klein presented data showing that the percentage of all incoming students meeting the District’s definition of kindergarten readiness declined from 60% in the fall of 2016, to 56% in the fall of 2017, to 49% in the fall of 2018.

 There is also a gap in the percentage of students who are kindergarten ready by both race and income. In the fall of 2018:

• 25.0% of the District’s African American/Black students and 35.4% of the District’s Hispanic/Latinx students were kindergarten ready, compared to 61.6% of the District’s White students,

• 34% of the District’s students from low-income households were kindergarten ready, compared to 62.3% 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 the Illinois Snapshot of Early Learning (ISEL): alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, one-to-one matching, letter sounds, and story listening. The report cautions, however, that ISEL does not capture the full array of skills that are associated with readiness for kindergarten.

Ms. Klein made two other points. The percent of incoming kindergartners with specific needs increased this school year, and the percent of incoming kindergartners with advanced competencies has declined.

“We are seeing a downward trend in the literacy skills of incoming students,” said Ms. Klein. Table No. 1 shows the changes between the fall of 2015 and the fall of 2018 for Black, Latinx, White and low-income students. The declines for Black and low-income students are dramatic.

Ms. Klein said it is important to address these needs as early as possible, because the gaps do persist. “It’s really critically important that we continue to assess this and look at the things we’re doing instructionally and the things we’re doing in terms of community support to make sure that we are responding to what the data is telling us.”

K-3 Literacy

The District has been placing a major focus on increasing the literacy skills of students at the kindergarten through third-grade levels. The District administers the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) to assess progress at these levels. 

The report reflects that 80% of all K-3 students meet DRA’s benchmarks, but there continue to be achievement or opportunity gaps between White students and Black and Latinx students.

The report shows that 67% of both Black and Latinx K-3 students met DRA benchmarks in 2018, compared to 91% of White students.

The same pattern exists by income status: 64% of students from low-income households met DRA’s benchmarks, compared to 90% of students from non-low-income households.

Between 2015 and 2018, there have been three point gains for Latinx and White students, but performance by Black students has been flat.

The benchmarks for DRA appear to be set at a lower academic level than that needed to be on track to college readiness. On the 2018 DRA,  78% of the District’s third-graders met DRA’s benchmarks for literacy. By contrast on the 2018 Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, only 57% of third-graders met college readiness benchmarks in reading.

College Readiness – Flat or Declining

One goal adopted by the School Board is to increase the percentage of students who are on track to college readiness on the MAP test, using benchmark scores in reading and math identified for that test by the Northwest Evaluation Association, the test’s owner. A student who scores at the benchmark is predicted to have a 50% chance of earning a B in a related subject in freshman year of college.

On a nationwide basis, approximately 36% of the students taking MAP are predicted to meet the college readiness benchmarks in reading and 38% in math.

“When we start to look at our MAP data, we see that there is a flat or declining trend,” said Ms. Klein. “I say flat or declining because it’s really difficult to tell if this is sort of marginal change or kind of a fluctuation in the data. We don’t know if this is significant, but definitely kind of leveling out of college readiness attainment.”

Table No. 2 below shows on a composite basis the percentage of District 65 third- through eighth-graders who met  college readiness benchmarks (CRB) in reading and math on the MAP test in the last six years. On the 2018 MAP test, reading scores were the same as in 2017, and there was a slight decrease in math from 2017.

Both the four-year and the six-year trends show a slight decline in both reading and math.

The charts below break down the data by race and income. They show, on a composite basis, the percentage of Black, Latinx, White, and low-income third- through eighth-graders at District 65 who are on track to college readiness in reading and math on the Spring MAP tests for the years 2013-2018. The data show:

• In 2018, the percentage of Black and Latinx students who met CRB in reading was 32% and 35% respectively, compared to 82% of White students.

• In math, 21% of Black students, 36% of Latinx students, and 79% of White students met CRB.

• In general there is a declining trend for Black and White students, and a flat trend for Latinx students.

• The percentage of students from low-income households who met CRB has declined in both reading and math since 2015.

In an attempt to assess the impact of race and income, the Achievement Report provides data showing the percentage of Black, Latinx and White students, disaggregated by income, who were on track to college readiness on the 2018 Spring MAP test. Table No. 3 below shows that data for reading. See sidebar for information on income levels.

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, Latinx and White students within each income level. For example, 53% of the Black students and 64% of Latinx students from non-low-income households met college readiness standards in reading, compared to 84% of White students from non-low-income households.

The Report says, “Students from historically underserved backgrounds overall had lower CRB attainment than students of historically privileged backgrounds, irrespective of SES [socioeconomic status]. This suggests the ongoing persistence of structural barriers for students of color, which are compounded by economic factors.”

Some research shows that the degree of wealth of non-low income households may impact opportunity gaps, a factor not assessed in the Achievement Report. In a 2013 essay entitled “No Rich Child Left Behind,” Sean Reardon, Ph.D., 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.”

Percent Making Expected Gains

One of the School Board’s goals is that students will make “expected gains” on the MAP test. Conceptually, to make expected gains, a student must grow academically during a school year as much as or more than the average student in his grade level who started out at the same level. On a nationwide basis, approximately 50% of the students meet expected gains using this approach.

In addition, though, District 65 has added an extra criterion: a student’s gain must be greater than the sum of the standard errors on both the pre- and post-test scores, which make it more difficult to make expected gains using the District’s criteria.

In reporting the results on meeting expected gains, Ms. Klein said more students were meeting growth targets in 2018 than 2017, but the rate at which students are growing is not sufficient to increase the percentage of students meeting college readiness benchmarks or to close the opportunity gap.

Table No. 4 gives, on a composite basis, the percentage of District 65 third- through eighth-graders who made expected gains in reading and math in the last six years. Higher percentages of students have consistently made expected gains in math, than in reading.

 The Achievement Report breaks out growth rates by race/ethnicity. The wide gaps that exist when looking at the percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks do not exist when looking at growth rates. The difference in growth rates between Black, Latinx and White students in reading has been relatively small, with larger differences in math.

The report noted that 12% more Black students met expected gains in math in 2018 compared to 2017.

Table No. 5 below shows the percentage of students by subgroup making expected gains on the spring MAP test in 2015-2018.

In order to see how meeting annual growth targets has impacted overall achievement,  the RoundTable asked the District to provide the average MAP RIT scores by grade level for 2015 – 2018. The average RIT scores take into account both the scores of students who met and who did not meet growth targets. That data is provided in Table No. 6 below.

The 2018 RIT scores are higher than the 2015 RIT scores in only three instances: seventh grade reading, and sixth and seventh grade math.

Despite efforts to increase literacy in the K-3 grades, the average third-grade reading scores have shown a slight decline.

Percent in the Bottom Quartile

One of the Board’s goals is to decrease the percentage of students who are scoring in the bottom quartile. On the 2018 MAP test, the percentage of students in the bottom quartile nationally decreased slightly in reading and math. Table No. 7 below gives the trends.

In 2018, 31% of Black students, 28% of Latinx students, and 3% of White students were in the bottom percentile in reading; 32% of low-income students and 53% of students with an IEP were in the bottom quartile. The pattern is similar for math.

Results on PARCC

The State mandated test for all third- through eighth-graders in Illinois  is the PARCC test,  which has been administered by Illinois State Board of Education on an annual basis for the last four years. The District’s Achievement Report shows that, on a composite basis, 44% of the District’s third- through eighth-graders met standards on the English Language Arts (ELS) portion of the PARCC test, and that 46% met standards in math.

The meet standards benchmark scores on PARCC are aligned with college readiness. The data show that fewer District 65 students are meeting college readiness benchmarks identified for the PARCC test than the college readiness benchmarks identified for the MAP test. 

The report says that the percentage of District 65 students meeting standards on PARCC are higher than the percentages for students in the State.

Board Comments

Board member Sergio Hernandez asked that the next achievement report provide data about pre-K students and their performance on the Teacher Strategies GOLD assessment, which teachers use to measure cognition, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and emotional skills. The assessment is based on observations.

. “Knowing that the research is really clear on how  these early years are the most important years in regard to brain development …  I think it’s  something that’s important that we as a community should know about and see how children do in that assessment, which is an observational assessment.”

Ms. Klein said teachers in the District’s early childhood program are using that assessment tool, and it provides rich data that is very individualized for each student. As a result, she said, it would be difficult to generalize the data for a class of students, but it may be good to see what could be pulled together. She said the Board would have to prioritize what information it wanted in the Achievement Report. 

Board Vice-President Anya Tanyavutti said she had previously asked that the report provide data disaggregated by both race and IEP status and by both race and English language learner (ELL) status, and she was disappointed this was not done. She said she would like to see the data broken out by students’ race and IEP status, by race and free-lunch status, by race and ELL status, and by race and gender identity. She said if it was reported on a District-wide basis, it would not violate student confidentiality concerns.

Board President Suni Kartha echoed Ms. Tanyavutti’s request. She said it would be helpful to understand how IEP status of racial groups plays into opportunity gaps.

Ms. Klein agreed the District could disaggregate data using multiple factors on a District-wide basis. 

Board member Joey Hailpern expressed frustration. “This is a case of ‘when you do what you’ve done, you’re going to get what you’ve got.’ I think this is a Board problem ultimately. I challenge the leadership group to tell us what’s next.

 “When we talk about all the different things that are going on in professional learning, do we have an associated outcome that we’re hoping to conclude with those things? What is Beyond Diversity supposed to give us in terms of outcome indicators because there’s a whole bunch of cultural pieces to it about our District and community and kids being seen and taken care of. There’s also an academic readiness component that I’m sure is aligned to it. I don’t know if you have to rewrite components of the report card to say like, here’s the things we’re doing and here’s how it’s related to what we’re hoping to see, but again if we don’t say what things are for, then negativity builds ambiguity.

Mr. Hailpern said, “I would love to know how it [the report] can be utilized in terms of research. Which schools of ours have systems in place to support students of color? How do we multiply that effort? Which schools are knocking it out of the park with IEPs, or college eligibility? That’s what I want to hear from the leadership group.”

Mr. Hailpern suggested including some victories in the report. “I think there are wins out there that are worth celebrating.”

Dr. Goren said Ms. Klein recently started at District 65 and in light of that they decided to use the same format as last year. He said they have already begun to discuss how to frame the report differently, and still remain transparent.

Ms. Klein said she welcomed discussing how to present the report in ways that will provide better information, and to address questions such as, “If this isn’t going to make an impact, what is?”  She added, “We should have a conversation of what the goal is of the report.”

Ms. Tanyavutti suggested it would be useful to see if cohorts are making progress in closing the gap and to see if learning is being accelerated for particular disaggregated groups. She questioned whether students across the board are struggling or are students in a particular cohort struggling. She said “Doing cohort analyses may show if new instructional strategies that have been implemented are having an impact.”

Ms. Kartha suggested that the District provide a cohort analysis of K-3 students using DRA data and see “what does that tell us about the implementation of the K-3 literacy framework.”

Ms. Tanyavutti said the “opportunity gap is happening early,” and she suggested that the District take a look at what types of pre-K experiences are helping kids come to District 65 kindergarten ready. “We need to think about what families are accessing that’s leading to their children feeling better prepared for kindergarten classes.”

Mr. Hernandez said, “There’s a consistent gap between White students and everyone else. To me that tells me something. One, we’re probably using the wrong assessment. Because I know that children are more than a test score.

“To me we really need to celebrate the victories with what we’re being required by law to report through standardized testing, but at the same time expand the way that we measure student success.”

Mr. Hernandez added, “We really need to figure out what supports can we use to target students’ needs in order to help them meet high standards that we have for them to achieve in our community. To me that’s what I’d like to see in a report.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Board member Lindsay Cohen said, “I feel like we haven’t talked at all about some of the important information that came out of it. One thing in particular is I don’t understand what we’re doing in the District to affect kindergarten readiness and what we’re doing to improve that outcome for children.”

Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, summarized some of the things the District is doing in the District’s early childhood program and its K-3 literacy program. She also said the District is working with Cradle to Career to provide families with ways to help students have a strong start to kindergarten.

Ms. Kartha summed up that the Board and administrators need to rethink the report and what it is going to look like next year.

She said, “The overarching things that I’ve heard for a number of years are how do we get data reported to us in a way that we can really analyze programs that we’re implementing … and if we’re actually making progress toward meeting the goals that we’ve stated?”

Ms. Kartha mentioned that it may be helpful to assess the impact of the K-3 literacy framework, the culturally responsive pedagogy, and social and emotional learning.

The Achievement Report does assess whether the District is making progress toward meeting the four goals adopted by the Board as part of the District’s five-year Strategic Plan, and it assesses whether all the work being done by the District is moving the needle toward meeting those goals. 











Viewing the Data With an Equity Lens

The 2018 Achievement Report contains some guiding principles to consider in evaluating the test data with an equity lens. The guiding principles include: • “Data in education has at times been used to perpetuate inequality and to justify outcomes that should be unacceptable in a system committed to equity. This reality is present even as District 65 seeks to use data to inform equitable decision making.• “When aggregate data show that members of a particular student 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.” • While the designers of the standardized tests have attempted to ensure that the tests are not racially or socioeconomically biased, “it is still possible that some bias may persist in the measurement …  The results of standardized tests point to important disparities in outcomes between student demographic groups; yet they do not fully describe the abilities, strengths, and capacities of students.” Household Income LevelsThe Achievement Report makes many references to the opportunity gap, but does not contain information about the disparity of income levels of different subgroups. In the Report, low-income means students qualified for free- or reduced-fee lunch. In the 2017-18 school year, 76% of the District’s Black students were from low-income households.  Of those, 92% qualified for free-lunch, which is a higher degree of poverty than those who qualify for reduced-fee lunch. Less than 10% of the District’s white students qualified for free- or reduced-fee lunch.   The District provided the RoundTable with income data for the 2018-19 school year: 72% of the District’s Black students are from low-income households, and 90% of that group qualify for free-lunch; 63% of Latinx students are from low-income households, and 82% of that group qualify for free lunch; 7% of White students are from low-income households and 86% of that group qualify for free lunch.

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...