On the 2021 Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), only 35% of School District 65’s students met or exceeded standards on the English language arts (ELA) part of the test, compared with 44% on the 2019 IAR.

For math, only 38% met or exceeded standards on the 2021 IAR, compared with 46% on the 2019 IAR.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the results for the 2021 IAR on Dec. 2.  

In commenting on the statewide results on the 2021 IAR, ISBE said, “The data illustrate the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of access to in-person learning on student achievement, enrollment and attendance. The data reveal … steep declines in students across grade levels attaining proficiency in math and English language arts.​

“We have witnessed both tragedy and heroism in our schools over the past year,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala. “Students and educators have lost so much and lived and learned through unthinkable obstacles, but loss is not the whole story. … Our teachers have stayed in classrooms when we have needed them the most, and the number of people choosing this wondrous profession in our state continues to grow. We know we have a steep road ahead of us to help students regain skills in math and reading, and we are confident that we have the funding, supports, and talent in our schools to climb that hill.” 

ISBE reported on a preliminary basis that 16.6% fewer students in the state met/exceeded standards in ELA in 2021 than in 2019; and 17.8% fewer students in the state met/exceeded standards in math.

Some caveats re: standardized test data

In a study published in September 2019, Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, and his co-authors say, “We examine racial test score gaps because they reflect racial differences in access to educational opportunities. By ‘educational opportunities,’ we mean all experiences in a child’s life, from birth onward, that provide opportunities for her to learn, including experiences in children’s homes, childcare settings, neighborhoods, peer groups, and their schools. This implies that test score gaps may result from unequal opportunities either in or out of school; they are not necessarily the result of differences in school quality, resources, or experiences.”

In presenting achievement reports in prior periods, District 65 has said, “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 insufficient social and economic supports. These results should not be used to draw conclusions about the efforts, abilities, or strengths of these students or their families.”

In that spirit, the scores reported in this article measure how well School District 65 and the Evanston community, as a whole, are providing equitable opportunities to the children in Evanston.

The results on the 2019 and 2021 IAR

ISBE began administering the IAR in 2019. It was not administered in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was administered again in 2021.

The IAR replaced the PARCC assessment that was administered between 2015 and 2018. Before PARCC, ISBE administered the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

There are five performance levels for the IAR:
• Level 5: Exceeded expectations
• Level 4: Met expectations
• Level 3: Approached expectations
• Level 2: Partially met expectations
• Level 1: Did not yet meet expectations

“Students performing at levels 4 and 5 met or exceeded expectations, have demonstrated readiness for the next grade level/course and, ultimately, are likely on track for college and careers,” says ISBE.

District 65 grade 3-8 results

The tables below report the results on the 2019 and the 2021 IAR in ELA and math. The 2019 tests were administered before COVID-19. The 2021 tests were administered in the spring of 2021, after District 65 students did not have in-person learning from March 2020 through mid-February 2021.

For the most part, District 65 students who returned for in-person learning in February 2021 took the IAR in the spring of 2021. Students who opted to continue with remote learning did not take the IAR in 2021.

On the 2019 IAR, 94% of District 65’s third through eighth graders took the IAR. In contrast, about 46% of District 65’s third through eighth graders took the IAR in 2021.

The charts below show the percentage of white, Black, Hispanic and low-income students who met or exceeded standards and are viewed as being on track for college and careers. The data is taken from ISBE’s website.

The data shows two key things: 1) there are significant drops in both ELA and math between 2019 and 2021 – the pandemic and remote learning have taken a toll; and 2) the percentages of District 65 students in each subgroup who met or exceeded standards are very low.

The charts below show the percentage of white, Black, Hispanic, and low-income students who scored in each of the five performance levels on the 2021 IAR in ELA and math. There are two key takeaways: 1) very high percentages of Black, Hispanic and low-income students scored in the very bottom performance level, indicating a high need for supports; and 2) very low percentages of the district’s students scored in the top performance level (i.e., exceeds standards); very few students excelled on the test.

Extensive research shows that there is a correlation between household income and standardized test scores, and that income levels impact opportunity gaps. In a 2013 essay titled “No Rich Child Left Behind,” Reardon 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.”

The most recent data available to the RoundTable shows that 70% of Black students attending District 65 in 2017 qualified for free lunch and an additional 6% qualified for reduced-fee lunch, for a combined total of 76%. By comparison, 6% of white students qualified for free or reduced-fee lunch.

Third grade scores on the ELA

In announcing the release of the 2021 IAR results, ISBE said, “The data show larger decreases in proficiency among younger students, who may have struggled more to engage in remote learning than their older peers.”

At District 65, the data shows that there was a significant drop in the percentage of third graders who met or exceeded standards on the 2021 IAR. On the ELA portion of the test, 33.3% of the district’s third graders who took the 2021 IAR met or exceeded standards, compared with 49.5% on the 2019 IAR. For math, the percentages were 43.2% in 2021, compared with 54% in 2019.

While the data show a drop in the percentages at the top two levels (i.e., the meet and exceeds levels), the data also show a significant increase in the percentage who scored in the lowest level on the ELA and in second to the lowest level. The chart below shows the percentages of District 65 third graders who scored in the bottom two levels on the 2019 IAR and on the 2021 IAR in ELA.

A large drop is seen in ELA performance at third grade, along with a high percentage of third graders scoring in the bottom two performance levels. About 50% of Black and Hispanic third graders scored in the lowest performance level in ELA on the 2021 IAR. And 77.6% of Black third graders scored in the bottom two levels on the 2021 IAR, and 68.2% of Hispanic students did so.

The RoundTable asked District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton on Dec. 4 if he would like to comment on the IAR results and, if so, to provide any comments by noon Dec. 7. The RoundTable also provided Horton with copies of the top four charts in this article. Horton responded that he would like to comment on the results, and said, “We will try to have our comments by Tuesday but please understand that we might not have it ready due to us reviewing the data.”

The RoundTable will update this article if District 65 provides comments on the IAR results.

School District 65 is moving ahead this year with many major initiatives, including whether to close one or more attendance-area schools, whether to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward, how to redraw attendance areas, how to address the district’s structural deficit which is projected to grow to $11 million in the next four years, and what to include in a new strategic plan.

For an article discussing trends of District 65 students on state tests, click here.  

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...