More than half of the pre-kindergarten students in School District 65’s Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center met or exceeded standards on a fall standardized test, Sharon Sprague reported at the School Board’s Jan. 25 meeting. She is Director of Early Childhood Programs at the Center, which is often referred to as “JEH.”

While the results on this test were higher than on previous tests, the results are not wholly comparable, because the tests are different. The most recent test,Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), produced by the Northwest Evaluation Association replaced the Illinois Snapshots of Early Literacy (ISEL), given in previous years and still used at District 65 in some primary grades.

Dr. Sprague told the Board the MAP test “is an adaptive assessment, so students take the various portions of the assessment based on their personal skills.” The company also provides MAP Fluency, a program that allows teachers to “play back the recordings of students reading the passages. This allows them to re-listen to them to identify where there might be specific words or conventions that are strengths or areas for growth,” she said.  

JEH offers educational programming for at-risk students from birth to age 5, operating five programs out the Early Childhood Center and the Family Center. The Family Center offers Early Head Start and Home Visiting programs for children from birth to age 3. The Early Childhood Center offers Head Start, PreSchool for All and Special Education programs for children ages 3 to 5.

Dr. Sprague said two things distinguish the JEH population: About 25% of its students are special education students, and the majority of students come from low-income families.

Tests Reflect Growth in Several Areas  

Eighty students completed the Phonics and Word Recognition portion; this was the largest number of students completing any portion of the test. In the MAP test, the phonics and word recognition portion includes letter-sound fluency, letter knowledge, decoding sounds, and building words

Dr. Sprague’s presentation showed students’ achievement in social-emotional learning, physical language, cognitive literacy, and mathematics development. She said the figures showed growth from the spring ISEL test to the fall MAP test. “We were seeing much larger percentages of students moving into the ‘exceeds expectations’ range, which we know to be more closely correlated with kindergarten readiness.”

She added, “This is important because significant research shows that students who arrive in kindergarten and demonstrating readiness are much more likely to stay on track by third grade and throughout their educational career. Students who are on track and in third grade remain on track, and are more likely to complete high school and enroll in college.” Dr. Sprague credited the academic growth to the implementation in 2020 of a six-point strategic plan.

Despite the overall growth, Latinx students lagged in certain key skills, Dr. Sprague said. She said JEH staff is addressing this challenge.

“Our Latinx students are continuing to demonstrate this trend of lagging skills in the area of mathematics, which has caused us to intensify our oversight of professional learning around math instruction with our bilingual team.

“There is no intrinsic reason that the children should be performing lower than their English-speaking peers. As the majority of the students who are Latinx students do receive instruction in Spanish. So this fact is leading us back to analyze the instructional practices for teaching mathematics in our Spanish classrooms.”

She said the school has purchased “new authentic Spanish-language texts to supplement each curricular unit we implement.  … We have organized the school and established systems that allow us to identify these problems, and respond with targeted interventions in a timely fashion.”

Dr. Sprague pointed to encouraging results from the Family Center as well.

“Language scores appear to be on track. Family Center teams continue to have monthly data review meetings to review student data and plan for individualized instruction.”

She concluded, “We celebrate our achievements to date, but remain intentionally focused on maintaining this growth, ensuring that all students at JEH over the years are individually prepared for kindergarten, and the world beyond.”

Data Not Comparable

While achievement may be reflected in the results of a test, growth and progress are measured by comparing results of the same type of test.

This is the first year JEH used the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, replacing the Illinois Snapshot of Early Learning, a test that is still used to assess kindergartners in some District 65 schools.

Dr. Sprague said the fall date from 2020 is not directly comparable to the fall data from the year before, “due to changes forced by the COVID-19 crisis. These changes include smaller sample size, differing assessment, environment and differing assessment components.”

The most significant barrier to comparing scores, however, is the fact that the two tests, the spring ISEL and the fall MAP test, are not aligned. A score that equates to “meets expectations” on one test may be ranked differently on another test. 

Kylie Klein, the District’s Director of Research, Accountability and Data, said, “One of the challenges that we have had is the lack of consistency [in tests]. And it is really a hindrance in terms of our ability to, to look long term.”

Other preschools in Evanston use different tests to assess kindergarten-readiness. Lindsay Percival, Director of Learning Bridge Early Education Center, said Learning Bridge “and most of the early childhood centers in Evanston use My Teaching Strategies as their assessment program.”

The MAP test results for JEH students thus represent a baseline, not necessarily growth compared to the previous year. They do, however, provide a framework to track student achievement in the upcoming years.

For Board comments on this presentation, click here

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...