Screenshot of joint District 65/202 School Board meeting on Feb. 22. RoundTable photo

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In January 2014, the School Boards of Districts 65 and 202 adopted a Joint Literacy Goal. The goal states: “District 65 and District 202 will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”

How to define “proficiency” and to measure progress in meeting the goal consistently across the K-12 span has been a challenge, because the Districts have used different tests. ETHS currently uses the STAR test, and District 65 uses the MAP test.

Defining Proficiency

For many years now, ETHS has given the STAR test in September to incoming ninth graders, and it selected a grade equivalent (GE) score of 8.3 on that test to reflect “proficiency” in reading for an incoming ninth grader.

A GE score of 8.3 means the incoming ninth grader has the literacy skills of a “typical” student in the third month of eighth grade, according to information provided by STAR.

Ninth graders scoring below a GE of 8.3 are “not reading at grade level,” Scott Bramley, Associate Principal for Instruction and Literacy at ETHS, said in a Jan. 10, 2019 memo.

Indeed, a ninth grader who has a GE score of 8.3 is reading at the level of a student in the third month of eight grade.

ETHS used that score to report the number of students who were entering the high school and who lacked proficiency in reading.

For purposes of measuring progress in meeting the Joint Literacy Goal, administrators of Districts 65 and 202 decided to use a GE Score of 8.3 as their benchmark for “proficiency” for students entering ETHS. And they decided to identify a score on the Spring eighth-grade MAP test in reading that aligned with that level of proficiency.

In a joint study done last year, administrators at District 65 and ETHS determined that a RIT score of 227 on the reading MAP test given in the Spring of eighth grade reflected a comparable level of proficiency in reading as a GE score of 8.3 on a STAR test given in September of ninth grade.

They agreed that District 65 would use a RIT score of 227 on the eighth-grade Spring MAP test in reading as its benchmark for proficiency in reading. Students with scores at or above 227 would be viewed as proficient in reading. Students with scores below that level would be viewed as not proficient in reading.

“There is a high degree of consistency” between the two measures, said Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent of District 202. The initial study analyzed test data for the school year 2018-2019.

Administrators conducted a follow up study, which analyzed test data for the two prior school years: 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. They told members of the School Boards at a joint School Board meeting on Feb. 22 that the follow- up study confirmed the conclusion reached in the initial study.  

Some Practical Implications

As it happens, a score of 227 in reading on the Spring eighth-grade test is the benchmark score that has been used by District 65 to indicate a student is not only scoring above the national average, but at a level of proficiency to indicate the student is on track to college readiness. The score was identified as a college readiness score by the Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, in a 2015 study.

But District 65’s joint study with ETHS determined that an eighth-grade score of 227 in reading on the Spring MAP test is aligned with a GE score of 8.3 on the STAR test given to incoming freshmen.

From the high school’s perspective, a GE score of 8.3 is the borderline between reading at grade level and reading below grade level. From STAR’s perspective it means the incoming freshman is reading at the level of a student in the third month of eighth grade.

So, an eighth grader at District 65 who scores a 227 in reading on the Spring MAP test is led to believe they are scoring above the national average and that they are on track to college readiness.

Once they set foot into the high school, though, there is a different story. That student is on the borderline of performing below grade level in reading from ETHS’s perspective, or perhaps six months below grade level from STAR’s perspective.

% Students Meeting the Proficiency Threshold

On Feb. 22, administrators presented data showing the percentages of third- through eighth graders who met the proficiency thresholds in reading on the Spring 2017, 2018, and 2019 MAP tests and the percentages of ninth-, tenth-, and eleventh graders who met the proficiency thresholds in reading on the Spring STAR tests.

In reporting the percentages of eighth graders who met the proficiency threshold in reading, District 65 used a score of 227 on the eighth-grade spring MAP test. The District used scores that were identified by NWEA and the District as college readiness benchmark scores for proficiency for the third- through seventh-grade Spring MAP tests.

ETHS used GE scores of 9.7, 10.7, and 11.7 on the STAR test to reflect whether a student met the proficiency benchmarks in reading at the end of ninth, tenth and eleventh grades. Dr. Bavis told the RoundTable last year that ETHS chose to use a GE of 9.7 for ninth grade, because “this would suggest that the student was performing similarly to the average student in the ninth grade in the seventh month (April) of the academic year. … We are using the STAR norm of 9.7 because it represents where students should be in April of 9th grade.”

Dr. Bavis added that going from a GE score of 8.3 in September of ninth grade to a GE score of 9.7 in April of ninth grade “expect[s] more than a year’s worth of growth to meet this standard.”

Assuming that is the case, the end-of-year ninth-grade standard used by ETHS would be scaled at a higher level than the end-of-year eighth-grade standard used by District 65, and it may make it look like there is a drop in reading achievement at the high school.

The charts below show the percentages of Black, Latinx, and White third- through eleventh graders who met the proficiency thresholds on the Spring MAP tests (for third- through eighth graders) and on the Spring STAR test (for ninth- through eleventh graders).  

 

A memo provided to the School Boards at their joint meeting on Feb. 22 says that overall, “Trends are relatively stable over the last three reported years of data for students in grades 3-8. For example, 64% of 8th grade students met the joint literacy goal in 2019, which was an increase from 61% in school years 2018 and 2017.”

The memo also commented on the performance of some subgroups. “We do see some areas of notable progress, including progress for our Black 8th graders. In 2017, 25% of Black 8th graders met the joint goal thresholds; by 2019, 41% of our Black 8th graders met the goal.

“There is also progress in goal attainment for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. In 2017, 28% of 8th graders who qualified for free or reduced lunch met the goal threshold. In 2019, this was 39%, an increase of ten percentage points.”

The charts also show that Latinx students showed an increase in eighth grade literacy.

But even with these gains, only about 41% of Black 8th graders, 45% of Latinx eighth graders, and 39% of low-income eighth graders met the threshold for proficiency in reading in 2019.

The Alignment Between the Spring Grades

While District 65 and ETHS appear to have aligned the scores at the end of eighth grade and the beginning of ninth grade, they do not appear to have aligned the scores at the end of eighth grade with the scores at the end of ninth grade.

The chart below shows the percentage of students who met the proficiency benchmarks on the MAP test in the spring of 8th grade and met the benchmarks on the STAR test in the spring of 9th grade. There is a significant drop between 8th ang 9th grades.

As an example, the chart reflects that Black students showed progress in the spring of eighth grade between 2017 and 2019. But in the spring of ninth grade at ETHS, 26% of Black students, 29% of Latinx students, and 21% of low-income students met the proficiency threshold, which was a GE score of 9.7 – or the typical score of a ninth grader in the seventh month of ninth grade.

The drop in scores between the spring of 8th grade and the spring of 9th grade suggests that District 65 is using a lower benchmark score than necessary to align with a GE Score of 9.7 on the STAR test in the spring of ninth grade.

Overall, the data suggests there has been little progress in meeting the Joint Literacy Goal, which is now in its seventh year.

The RoundTable will publish an article summarizing comments of administrators and Board members concerning these scores in a subsequent article or articles.