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Student literacy data presented Feb. 22 to the District 65 and District 202 school boards. (Chart from school board memo)

At a joint meeting Tuesday night, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202 boards reviewed statistics showing the districts are falling short on student literacy and discussed revamping their 2014 joint literacy goal. 

According to a memo presented to board members at the Feb. 22 meeting, the original joint literacy goal set eight years ago states that “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.” 

But the school boards have encountered a number of roadblocks to this reading proficiency plan since 2014. As several board members mentioned Tuesday night, just finding a way to compare reading performance data for students across both districts took five years because the districts administer different standardized tests. District 65 uses the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), while ETHS assesses reading comprehension for students through the Renaissance Star test. 

According to ETHS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis, just 53.4% of current freshmen in the class of 2025 met both the MAP reading standards in 8th grade and the Star reading standards in 9th grade. He said 25.7% of the class of 2025 met neither the Star nor MAP standards for reading proficiency across the same years, compared with the 30% in the ETHS class of 2022 who missed both benchmarks.

‘Unacceptable opportunity gap by race’

The data also shows that nonwhite, low-income students in both districts continue to struggle with reading the most, as has been the case for years: 71.2% of white students in the freshmen class at ETHS met both reading standards for the MAP and Star tests, compared with 35.3% of Hispanic students and 26% of Black students. Similarly, 65.3% of students not receiving free or reduced-price lunch at school passed both reading thresholds, while just 23.3% of the students on free or reduced-price lunch did so. 

“We continue to see an unacceptable opportunity gap by race,” said Stacy Beardsley, District 65 Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

That persistent opportunity gap, combined with increased social-emotional learning demands due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning and mental health, means both districts need to “revise” and “reboot” the joint literacy goal, according to Beardsley and Bavis. 

“Since I’ve been on the board, it hasn’t changed much,” said Monique Parsons, Vice President of the District 202 board. “This is urgent like nothing ever before, and with that urgency, my expectation is that the considerations are bold, not just creative. How are we going to do school differently? We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past eight years because it hasn’t worked.”

Parsons and other board members also urged Bavis and Beardsley to add more accountability mechanisms to a revised joint literacy goal so that when and if student reading progress fails to occur in the future, any issues can be addressed more quickly. 

Additionally, District 65 board representatives Biz Lindsay-Ryan and Soo La Kim suggested modeling reading programs for all local K-12 efforts on recent intervention strategies employed through the Summer Lift reading intensive program and at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center. Summer Lift started three years ago and offers individualized literacy instruction for both District 65 and District 202 students. In just 16 class days over the summer, students enrolled in the Lift program improve their reading ability on average by more than two grade levels.

According to the memo on reading performance data from Beardsley and Bavis, the next step in the process of revamping the joint literacy goal will be working  “with the Superintendents to bring a revised goal to the fall Joint Board meeting.”

Bavis said the feedback from board members will help him think boldly and outside the box when planning new literacy strategies. 

“We heard loud and clear the need for urgency and owning that, regardless of situations, we are accountable for students and student learning,” Beardsley said. “And that work has to be done by the adults and the institutions, and [we know] that you’re ready to hear a creative and bold and accountable solution soon.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. Unfortunately, these disappointing results were entirely predictable. The D65 school board has paid more attention to cancelling homework, grades, holidays, parental involvement and fundraising efforts while promoting composting, proper pro-nouns and equitable outcomes (not opportunities) than they have to educating students. This agenda, pushed in the name of equity, has all come at the expense of student achievement. As a result, we now have lower enrollment, divisive rhetoric from our leaders and declining test scores across our student body. It’s time to wake up Evanston. We can be progressive and set high expectations for achievement.

  2. This is one of the reasons why District 65 is so fixated on building a school: they want to distract from the fact that they have failed at instruction.

    Good, experienced teachers have left the district because of Administration indifference to the teaching environment.

    Instead the Board & Admin is pushing the building of a new school while the current buildings are falling apart and the district hasn’t budgeted nearly enough to fix them.

    The district is also facing lower enrollments and a dodgy financial outlook.

    While all this is happening student performance is suffering.

    We need a D65 Board that isn’t filled with group-think consultants and whose main interest is improving student learning rather than building expensive monuments that will swiftly crumble given the lack of concern given to maintaining the existing physical plant.