A presentation intended to report how School Districts 65 and 202 will track progress toward meeting their Joint Literacy Goal adopted in January 2014 spawned an emotional discussion about the lack of progress in improving reading proficiency in the last five years.

The Joint Literacy Goal is to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.” It was contemplated that the Districts would jointly measure progress toward meeting the goal, starting at third grade and continuing to 12th grade.

The Mismatch of Test Results

The issue arose when District 202 administrators presented a report to the District 202 School Board on Jan. 14, showing that 16% of the students entering ninth grade at ETHS in 2018 were not reading “proficiently,” according to the Measures of Academic Progress test, but that 40% were not reading “proficiently,” according to the STAR test.

The report, prepared by Scott Bramley, Evanston Township High School Associate Principal for Instruction and Literacy, and Kiwana Brown, Reading Specialist, provided five years of data, disaggregated by race. 

Mr. Bramley’s report defined proficiency differently for the two tests. For MAP, which is given to District 65 students, the report defined proficiency as scoring at or above the 50th national percentile (or a MAP RIT score of 270), which is often used as an indicator of grade-level performance.

For STAR, which is given to ETHS students, proficiency was defined as scoring above a grade-equivalent score of 8.3 shortly after students enter ninth grade. STAR says an 8.3 is a typical score for a student at the third month of eighth grade.

It appears that the tests, the norms, or proficiency levels are not aligned. While some of the difference may be due to summer learning loss between eighth and ninth grades and to the inclusion of STAR results for ninth-graders who did not attend District 65, the report raised a question whether about 16% of the students were entering ETHS reading below grade level or whether about 40% were.

A Joint Committee of District 65 and 202 School Boards discussed the issue on Jan. 16 and asked administrators to consider adopting the same test or to statistically align the proficiency levels of MAP and STAR so the Boards could monitor progress in meeting the Joint Literacy Goal that all student be proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade. 

At the Board’s joint meeting on Feb. 25, Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 65, and Pete Bavis, Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 202, said they reached an agreement on how to track progress toward meeting the Joint Reading Goal. They said:

• District 65 will not use MAP RIT scores aligned with grade-level performance, but MAP RIT scores – including a RIT score of 227 in eighth grade – that are aligned with a higher benchmark, college readiness. The college readiness benchmark scores, which align with ACT’s definition of college readiness, were identified by the Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, in a 2015 study. 

• ETHS will use a grade-equivalent scores of 9.7, 10.7 and 11.7 on the STAR test for ninth, 10th, and 11th grades respectively.

• The results will be reported for tests given in the spring, and ETHS will include data only for students who attended District 65.

Dr. Beardsley said there is an “appropriate connection” between the RIT MAP scores and the STAR grade-equivalent scores, and that the table of scores “will be successful and informative for our work.”

While the Districts reached agreement on how to measure progress in meeting the Joint Literacy Goal, they did not analyze which test more reliably measures whether students are reading at grade-level.

Dr. Bavis told the RoundTable that these scores will be used only to track progress in meeting the Joint Literacy Goal, not for making placement decisions at the high school.

Comments on the Lack of Progress

District 202 Board member Mark Metz said, “We’ve got a lot of kids over the years – roughly 40% – who were not reading at grade level according to the STAR results, and we weren’t diagnosing them very early to get them the supports available that are needed. It causes re-sectioning; it causes a lot of confusion during the first semester. It’s lost time.”

Mr. Metz added that he had reviewed the STAR test results in Mr. Bramley’s January report and had received information from Dr. Bavis showing the percentage of District 65 eighth-graders scoring at or above a RIT score of 227 on the MAP test.

“I’m concerned about the trend line,” said Mr. Metz. “Here we are five years into the goal and, up and down, but roughly 40% every year are entering this school that are not reading at grade level. Is that correct?”

While the data showed that 36% of District 65 eighth-graders did not meet a RIT score of 227, Dr. Beardsley said that a MAP RIT score of 227 is a college ready score and it corresponds to the 65th national percentile at 8th grade, according to a national sample pool for MAP.

That is a higher benchmark than grade level, which is often pegged at the 50th percentile.

According to a chart presented to the Board at the Feb. 25 joint meeting, 21% of District 65 eighth graders scored below the 50th percentile – or a RIT score of 220 – on the Spring MAP test in 2018. 

Mr. Metz said, “I’m concerned about outcomes and results, and what I’m looking at in all these reports, is it’s not getting better. If I had hair, it would be on fire, and everybody in this community ought to be really upset about this.

“How can we sit and be in classrooms with kids when a big percentage of kids in every school in our system aren’t reading at grade level? To me it’s a crisis.”

Dr. Beardsley responded, “This for us is a matter of great urgency. When you look at the demographics underneath it, we also pay great attention to the demographics and the students who are impacted by the data. So we do not dismiss that data in any way, shape or form, and we work diligently to change those outcomes.”

She added, though, “I do want to clarify.” She said the data shows that 36% of District 65 eighth-graders are not scoring above a RIT score of 227 on the MAP test, but said that is a college readiness score “ that is at the 65th percentile of our national norm. … We are setting a high benchmark, because we believe that our students can achieve that and we believe our institutions can achieve that and that will set students up for success.”

District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston said she had helped drive the Joint Literacy Goal and she was “frustrated.” She said she would like to see the data reported for the last five years – from the time the goal was adopted in 2014 – using the RIT scores and grade equivalent scores that the Districts agreed to use to monitor progress in meeting the Joint Reading Goal. 

District 65 Board member Candance Chow echoed that request. Dr. Bavis and Dr. Beardsley said they would provide that information.

When Mr. Metz asked why the data showing the percentage of students who had met a RIT score of 227 – the college readiness score for eighth grade – was not provided before, Dr. Beardsley responded that District 65 has publicly reported the percentage of students who met the college readiness scores identified for the MAP test for more than five years. The RoundTable has reported college readiness data for District 65, going back to 2001. 

District 202 Board member Jude Laude said, “I find it hard to understand how we have remained flat … for five years. … I think people are just too comfortable. … I cannot be comfortable. I’m ashamed. I think we all have to bear this burden.

“We are in crisis in one of the most livable places in the United States:  35-40% of our students are coming in below grade level.

“I’m not pointing fingers, but this is a crisis.”

Ms. Livingston said, “Unless we acknowledge this is a problem, we can’t get to the solution. We’re all trying hard. If anybody’s been paying attention, this is old news that students are stuck right now. What are we doing to set those interim targets?

“This is a huge issue … Let’s make this easier to wrap our heads around so we can all jump on the bandwagon and solve the problem.”

Dr. Beardsley said District 65 has set interim targets, and has placed a major focus on literacy in the K-3 grade levels. She and District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren summarized the work being done at the District level and at the school level. Dr. Bavis, in turn, summarized work being done at ETHS.

Monique Parsons, District 202 Board Vice President, said she assumed most of the students coming into ETHS who were not proficient readers were students of color. “I am concerned that when we talk about equity and when we have these conversations and we do all the training, we’re not bold enough to say we’re not doing what we need to do for our students of color.”

District 65 Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said, “There’s no excuse, and we need to adopt a philosophy of no excuses. Our children can learn and they can progress and they can be proficient. And if it’s not happening, we need to be held accountable as to why it’s not happening. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency and expectation for all of our children.”

Mr. Metz questioned, “Are we moving the ball toward the objective or not. The data over the last five years say we failed to do that. … What are we going to do to take it down to each individual kid and fix that kid?”

District 65 has been identifying students in the bottom quartile and other students who need supports, and it develops an individual plan for students using the Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

District 202 Board President Pat Savage Williams said, “So that’s the goal. Identify the students. Racialize the conversation. All the equity work we’re doing in this community, if we don’t apply it to this, then this is for naught.

“If we’re serious, if we’re truly committed to doing equity work, if we’ve learned anything in all of those discussions, we’ve learned how to look at students, how to racialize the problems, how to adapt to the needs. This is an adaptability issue. If we don’t know how to do this, then we’re wasting our time and money doing this.”

While the results have been disappointing, District 65 has publicly reported achievement data showing the disparities between races and income levels for many years. Dr. Goren and other administrators, including former Superintendent Hardy Murphy, have repeatedly recognized the need to address the disparities and have taken steps in an attempt to do so. 

When presenting the five-year strategic plan in March 2015, Dr. Goren said, referring to the disparity in achievement results, “It’s a clarion call for all of us, starting in my office, through the classrooms and into the community, and not only for us as educators and not only for us who work in the system, but for those of us who live in Evanston, to really get behind the schools and the work that we want to do to move forward.”

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...