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Evanston-Skokie School District 65 plans to present its five-year academic goals and the metrics to measure progress in meeting those goals in September. The goals and metrics will shed some light on whether the district will set high expectations for students, and whether the School Board intends to hold itself and the administration accountable for increasing student learning and reducing achievement gaps in the district.

Goals so far this year

On June 6 and 7, principals of 10 District 65 schools presented their “school work plans” to members of the School Board’s Finance Committee and its Policy Committee. The RoundTable obtained the work plans for an additional four schools through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The district required each school to prepare a work plan that identified the school’s top priorities for the 2022-23 school year, identify goals for each priority and specify how the school will measure whether it has met its goals.

Not one of the schools stated that a goal was to prepare students to be on track for college readiness. The goals are shown in the Appendix below.

Instead, virtually all of the schools set their goals around one of two metrics: increasing the percentage of students who score at or above grade level (historically viewed as the 50th percentile) on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests in reading and/or math; and increasing the percentage of students who meet the growth targets identified by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) for the MAP test. NWEA is the owner of the MAP test.

Several schools set goals to decrease the percentage of students in the bottom quartile in reading and math on the MAP test.

These goals set lower expectations than being on track for college readiness. Students who just meet the 50th percentile are 2.66 years behind where they need to be in math and 1.29 years behind where they need to be in reading in order to be on track for college readiness, using the college readiness benchmarks adopted by the school board 10 years ago. During the meetings at which the work plans were presented, no member of the School Board asked why college readiness was not a goal.

Similarly, the new five-year contract entered into between the School Board and Superintendent Devon Horton on March 14, 2022, does not contain a college readiness goal. In fact, the contract dropped a requirement that the achievement gap related to college readiness be significantly reduced – a goal that was in the prior contract.

Instead, the new contract contains a goal to increase the percentage of Black and Latinx students making expected gains in reading and math on the MAP test. A goal to meet expected gains only requires students to have average growth and to stay even with their peers. It does not expect students to accelerate their growth. It may reinforce the status quo and the existing achievement gaps. The RoundTable published an in-depth analysis about this in April.

Horton told the RoundTable in an email that the work plans were drafts and that “work plans will be completed by early September.” He added, “Data was still being analyzed and goals from our strategic plan were not complete at the time. Schools couldn’t set goals without us first having district goals.

“Our team this summer has been finalizing our Key Performance Indicators that will measure our strategic plan,” Horton said. “We looked at a variety of data and we will be releasing our five-year goals in September and presenting our first set of outcomes in October, February and June each year. This will include college readiness goals for reading and math.”

District administrators presented new draft strategic plan areas to the School Board on May 23. That plan did not mention college readiness or define measures of academic success.

College and career readiness

More than a decade ago, in August 2011, the District 65 School Board adopted a goal that the district would prepare students to be on track to college readiness, and would increase the percentage of students who were on track to college readiness. The board also decided to measure whether students were on track to college readiness using benchmark scores on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) that were identified by Paul Zavitkovsky, Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois Chicago. The scores for reading corresponded to the 60th percentile nationally; the scores for math corresponded to the 68th percentile nationally.

At the time, the ISAT was the annual test administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to all third- through eighth graders in Illinois.

Scores identified by Zavitkovsky were linked to the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which predict that a student will have a 50% chance of obtaining a B in a related course in freshman year of college. A recent study shows that 79% of the grades given in four-year colleges are either As or Bs. So, a B is reasonable measure of success.

The ACT also made clear that the same academic skills are needed to be career ready as to be college ready in today’s world. “Career-ready core academics and college-ready core academics are essentially the same, thus creating overlap in the preparation students need to be ready for post secondary education and careers,” says the Association for Career and Technical Education.  

In February 2015, the School Board adopted a new five-year strategic plan after obtaining extensive community input. One of the goals was to “increase the percent of students at or above college ready benchmarks (CRB) in math and reading.” By this time the district was also administering the MAP test to its students.

In August 2016, the District 65 School Board decided to use the MAP scores identified by NWEA in its 2015 study in assessing whether students were on track to college readiness. The MAP scores identified by NWEA in its 2015 study were linked to the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks (a 50% chance of earning a B in freshman year college). Those MAP scores currently correspond, on average, to the 60th percentile nationally in reading and the 69th percentile nationally in math.

The district continued to report the percentage of students meeting the college readiness benchmarks in the achievement report published in January 2020.

Plans aim at 50th percentile

As noted, none of the work plans presented by District 65’s schools in June 2022 contain a goal of college readiness. Instead, many set a goal to increase the percentage of students who score at or above grade level (which has historically been the 50th percentile).

But obviously, a goal that students score at or above the 50th percentile sets significantly lower expectations than a goal that students score at levels that indicate being on-track to college readiness which are set at the 60th and 69th percentiles. The chart below illustrates the difference.

One way to quantify what this difference means in terms of academic skills is to calculate the difference between the MAP scores needed to meet the 50th percentile and the scores needed to meet the college readiness benchmarks, and to estimate the number of school years needed to make up that difference.

For example, for eighth grade math, the MAP score at the 50th percentile is 230.30. The MAP score that indicates college readiness is 242.73. The score needed to reach the 50th percentile in eighth grade is thus 12.43 points lower than the score needed to be on track to college readiness. While this may not seem like a lot of points, NWEA has determined that the average growth expected of an eighth grader in math is only 4.66 points. At that rate of growth, it would take a student 2.66 years to increase their score by 12.43 points (12.43/ 4.66 = 2.66 years).

Thus, an eighth grader who just scores at the 50th percentile in math may be said to be 2.66 years of growth behind a student who scores at the college readiness benchmark in math, which is at the 69th percentile.

An examination of the MAP scores at different grades corroborates this conclusion. MAP test results are scored across an even interval scale, meaning that a score of 232 in sixth grade represents the same academic skill level as a score of 232 in eighth grade.

To be on track to college readiness in sixth grade, a student needs a score of 232.34. To meet the 50th percentile in eighth grade, a student needs a score of 230.30, or a score 2 points lower than what a sixth grader needs to score to meet college readiness.

So, a student just meeting the 50th percentile in eighth grade is at a lower academic skill level than a sixth grader who is on track to college readiness.

The difference is not as great for reading. At eighth grade, a student who just scores at the 50th percentile is 1.29 years of growth behind a student who scores at the college readiness benchmark.

These differences are significant. Clearly, setting a goal of grade level performance (i.e., meeting the 50th percentile) sets much lower expectations for students than college readiness.

Reading proficiency

In February 2019, administrators of School Districts 65 and 202 agreed in a joint study that an eighth grader at District 65 should obtain a score of 227 on the Spring MAP test to be regarded as “proficient” in reading when entering ninth grade at Evanston Township High School. Students who scored below that level need supports. [2] Administrators confirmed this finding on at least two occasions since 2019.

District 65 back mapped the eighth grade MAP score of 227 to identify the scores that third- through seventh-graders need to achieve to be on track for getting a score of 227 in eighth grade. [3] As it turns out, the scores indicating proficiency in reading are the same as the scores identified by NWEA to be on track to college readiness.

Yet, none of District 65’s schools work plans set a goal that students would meet the MAP scores identified in the joint study. Instead, by aiming at only the 50th percentile, the schools are setting lower expectations at each grade.

For example, at eighth grade the score indicating proficiency in reading is 227; the score at the 50th percentile is 222. Students with a score of 222 will be more than a year’s worth of growth below where they need to be in order to be considered proficient in reading when they enter ETHS.

This further indicates that a goal to meet the 50th percentile is setting low expectations for students.

Meeting growth targets

In their work plans, many schools adopted a goal to increase the percentage of students who are meeting the growth targets set by NWEA.  

The Northwest Evaluation Association has identified growth targets in its 2020 norm study. Under NWEA’s model, an individual student’s growth target is the average growth of students who are in the same grade and who started out the school year at the same achievement level.

For MAP, making “expected gains” means keeping pace with one’s academic peers, staying at the same spot on the distribution scale. Making expected gains does not mean making accelerated growth.

The problem is that many students in District 65, particularly Black and Latinx students, are not meeting college readiness benchmarks. In pre-pandemic years, about 20% of Black students, 35% of Latinx students, and 80% of white students met college readiness benchmarks on the MAP test in math and reading.

If Black and Latinx students have average growth over the next five years, they will be in about the same place as they are now, and the achievement gap will be about the same as it is now. A goal to meet NWEA growth targets may reinforce existing achievement gaps. The RoundTable’s April analysis covered this in more detail.

To move the needle, the district needs to accelerate the growth of Black and Latinx students, not aim for average growth. The District’s school plans, though, expect average growth, not accelerated growth.

Significantly, NWEA’s 2020 norm study expressly acknowledged that it is not designed to provide targets that will accelerate students’ growth to a point where they will be on track to college readiness or meet a certain proficiency standard.

“The norms provide information about average achievement and growth for U.S. students but provide no information about necessary or sufficient achievement or growth in any U.S. state relative to grade-level proficiency or college readiness standards or aspirational growth goals,” according to the NWEA’s Norm Study.

NWEA also said that if a school district is interested in accelerating students’ growth or closing achievement gaps, it can set customized accelerated growth targets to achieve those goals, and NWEA’s study, at pages 84-85, provides suggestions on how to do this.

District 65 has not done so. None of the school work plans have done so.

By defining success in terms of meeting expected gains on MAP, the schools have eliminated the expectation that they will accelerate the growth of a significant number of Black and Latinx students and raise them up to higher, and in most cases much higher, achievement levels. Instead, the schools expect average growth.

College readiness goal

Horton told the RoundTable that the District plans to adopt a goal of college readiness in September, adding, “We will have specific targets for each year with the ability to adjust goals within our MIRACLES framework.”

So far, the new draft strategic plan has not formally adopted a goal for college readiness nor adopted benchmarks to use in measuring progress.

On May 6, District 65 said in response to a RoundTable FOIA request that it had shifted from using MAP scores that were linked to the ACT’s benchmarks for college readiness to using MAP scores that were linked to the SAT’s benchmarks for college readiness. The District’s FOIA response said in part, “The current CRB benchmarks we use are as follows: Math CCR (SAT >=530), Reading CCR (SAT >= 480).”

The RoundTable asked Horton if it was true that the district had made that shift. Horton replied, “As far as why the shift from ACT to SAT, I’m sure you are aware that ISBE shifted to the SAT back in 2015. This change should have been made back when the state shifted over. It’s really about aligning our assessment outcomes.”

He added in a subsequent email, “As far as the shift from ACT to SAT college readiness this decision was made strictly for alignment. There are a couple of other critical priorities that we measure based on our MAP data. We look intentionally at the [Illinois Assessment of Readinesss] predictors so that we can support our schools in identifying learning standards that need to be addressed. This will connect directly with our benchmark assessments that we were able to launch last school year in reading and math. We have also been working really intentionally on standard based grading which has consistently shown better correlation between college success than ACT or SAT scores.”

At this time, it is unclear how District 65 will measure whether or not students are on track to college readiness. If the district decides to link its benchmark score on the MAP test to the SAT’s benchmark score of 480 in reading, it would drastically reduce expectations for students. That SAT benchmark score and the MAP score that is aligned with that SAT score correspond to the 40th national percentile, which is significantly below grade level (i.e., the 50th percentile), and even further below the benchmark scores that District 65 has been using for the last 10 years that correspond to the 60th percentile in reading.

Significantly, the SAT reading benchmark is linked to a 75% chance of earning a grade of C in a freshman-year literacy course. However, a C is no longer an average grade. Because of grade inflation, a C is considered in the bottom quartile and close to the bottom quintile. A college GPA of 2.0 is generally the borderline score needed to advance to the next semester. It is at best getting by. It is not success.

Moreover, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) does not use SAT’s college readiness benchmark score of 480 when reporting the percentage of students who are college ready in reading, saying in part it chose a more rigorous standard “designed to reduce the likelihood that students would need remedial coursework upon entering college.” Significantly, ISBE uses an SAT score of 540, rather than a score of 480, to indicate proficiency and college readiness in reading.

Past research has shown that a high school Grade Point Average is generally a better predictor of college success than scores on the ACT or SAT, but only by a small margin. Much of the research concludes that using both a high school GPA and a standardized test together provide a better predictor.

In addition, a recent study conducted by a Task Force of the California University Academic Council found that “standardized test scores aid in predicting important aspects of student success, including undergraduate grade point average (UGPA), retention, and completion. At [University of California], test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, UGPA, and graduation.”

The Task Force also found, “In fact, test scores are better predictors of success for students who are Underrepresented Minority students (URMs), who are first-generation, or whose families are low-income.”

The Task Force added, “California high schools vary greatly in grading standards, and that grade inflation is part of why the predictive power of HSGPA has decreased since the last UC study.”

Of course, standardized tests at the K-8 grade levels are not used to determine admissions to college. But the point is that standardized tests are predictive, and they serve an important role in assessing whether a school district is educating all of its students at high academic levels and preparing them for college, if they so choose, or a career. Grades, which may vary from teacher to teacher, from school to school, and from school district to school district, do not provide the same information.

In a November 2020 letter sent to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, a dozen civil rights, social justice, disability rights and education advocacy organizations across the country said, “For the parents, families, and communities we serve, the data from annual statewide assessments are an important source of information that tell them how well the education system is serving their children. The use of standardized tests has helped reveal longstanding achievement gaps and racial disparities in academic opportunity and provided the evidence used by civil rights groups to advocate for change. Systems of accountability in education serve as a critical tool to ensuring the most vulnerable students and schools receive the support and resources they need to succeed.”

Footnotes

[1] The tables below compare for fifth through eighth grades: 1) the MAP scores needed to score at grade level (i.e., the 50th percentile) with 2) the MAP scores needed to be on track to college readiness. The tables also show the difference between the two scores and NWEA’s average expected growth target for students in the grade indicated who start out the year at the 50th percentile in the grade indicated.

[2] In January 2014, School Districts 65 and 202 adopted a joint goal that all students would be reading “proficiently” when they graduated from Evanston Township High School. This was a 12-year goal, and the districts decided to work together to assess on an annual basis whether students were on track to meeting that goal. The districts have struggled over the years on how to measure progress in meeting that goal because they use different tests.

As part of its assessment of freshmen entering Evanston Township High School, the school determined that an incoming ninth grader needs to achieve at least a grade equivalent (GE) score of 8.3 on the STAR test to be viewed as reading proficiently. A GE score of 8.3 means a student is reading at the level of a “typical” student in the third month of eighth grade. So, for a ninth grader to be reading at that level means the student is reading below grade level. Students who are reading below that level receive supports.

In February 2019, administrators of District 65 and ETHS presented a joint study in which they determined that a score of 227 on the MAP test given in the spring of eighth grade equated to a GE score of 8.3 on the STAR test. So the joint study determined that an eighth grader scoring a 227 in reading on the spring test was reading below grade level, and that student would need support when entering ETHS.

[3] The table below shows in column (1) the score needed to score at grade level (i.e., the 50th percentile) in reading on the spring MAP test and in column (2) the score needed to be proficient in reading on the MAP test, per the joint D65/ETHS study.

Appendix

Each school work plan provided academic goals and targets for success for the 2022-23 school year. The academic goals and targets for success for each school are set out below. The information is taken from each school’s work plan.

Bessie Rhodes: “By May 2023, we will see a 5% increase of students at/above grade level in both reading & math and a decrease of 5% of students in the bottom 25%ile as measured by the Fall 2022 to Spring 2023 NWEA/MAP Assessment,”

Chute:  “On the 22-23 Spring MAP, 5% increase in students reaching math (57 to 62%) and ELA (67 to 72%) growth targets.”

Dawes: “By Spring 2023, there will be a 10% or more increase of students at/above grade level in reading and math as measured by MAP.”

Dewey: “By the Spring of 2023, an increase of 25% of Black and Latinx students will meet their MAP goals in reading and math on the NWEA MAP exams.”

Haven: “Student academic performance as measured by Fall to Spring MAP scores will increase by 15% for each of the following subgroups EB, Low Income, and SpEd.”

Kingsley: “The number of students making expected gains will increase by 6% on the NWEA MAP Math assessment,” and, “The number of Black students in the 1st quartile in math will decrease by 15%. The number of Black students in the 1st quartile in Reading will decrease by 7% on NWEA MAP assessment.”

Lincoln: “By Spring 2023, we will increase the percentage of students at or above grade level by 10% in reading (71%) and math (72%) as measured by MAP.”

Lincolnwood: “The number of students making expected gains will increase by 10% on the 2023 Spring NWEA MAP Math and ELA assessment,” and, “The number of students in the bottom quartile on the Spring NWEA MAP assessment (Reading and Math) will decrease by 10%.”   

Nichols: “Increase in MAP literacy with the number of students at or above grade level from 76% showing proficiency to 80% by June 2023. We also want to improve students meeting their growth targets from 64% to 70%. By June 2023, Black students meeting ELA growth targets will improve from 53% to 60%. Latinx students meeting ELA growth targets will improve from 65% to 70%.

Oakton: “By Spring 2023, there will be a 10% or more increase of students at/above grade level in math as measured by MAP from Spring to Spring 2023,” and “By Spring 2023, there will be a 8% or more increase of students at/above grade level in reading as measured by MAP from Spring to Spring 2023.”

Orrington: “By Spring of 2023, we will increase the percentage of K-5th grade students meeting their Spring to Spring MAP growth targets in Math (11% increase) and ELA (15% increase),” and, “By Spring of 2023 we will decrease the number of students at or below the 25th%tile, based on Spring to Spring MAP data in Reading and Math by 7%.”

Walker: “The number of students making expected gains will increase by 7% on the 2023 Spring NWEA MAP Math assessment, and “The numbers of students in the bottom quartile on the Spring NWEA MAP assessment (Reading and Math) will decrease by 10%.”

Washington: “By Spring 2013, 70% of students, will meet growth expectations as measured by MAP in Reading and Math. BIPOC students will increase growth expectations by 10%.

Willard: “In order to implement a MTSS and academic support system by June 2023, at least 80% of the BIPOC students who fall below the 25th %ile and/or have an IEP will meet their growth goals based on MAP and progress monitored by Fastbridge, iReady and EDL Assessments.”

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...

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  1. I am very much with Larry Gavin’s April article that “To move the needle, the district needs to accelerate the growth of Black and Latino students, not tread water with average growth.”
    As so many black writers and intellectuals say, the FAMILY is the DOMINANT issue behind lack of achievement by minorities. And the most important issue: the lack of fathers in the homes.
    Among them Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who learned to read by himself and who said, “Knowledge unfits a child to be a slave. I instinctively assented to the proposition, and from that moment I understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom; knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
    Others such as Nelson Mandela, Jason Riley, Vince Ellison, Thomas Sewell, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele…etc etc stress that the prime and main insurance of success in school and life are FATHERS IN THE HOMES and FAMILIES INVOLVED IN THEIR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION. And this is NOT happening. While before the mid 60’s black children lived in more two parent homes than white children, today according to the census bureau, in 2020 only 37.9% of black children live in homes with two parents. Latinos: 61.9, while whites 75.5 and Asians 87.4%. It is not a coincidence that Asians are scoring on top in academics.
    Why do blacks in America do worse than Nigerian immigrants? Novelist C.S. Friedman says, “Statistically, Americans of Nigerian background currently have the highest average per capita income of any ethnic or racial group in the US. They also rank high in education. All of the top performing cultures place high value on education. That seems to a major factor in predicting financial success.” And I might add, two parents in their homes is also a major factor.
    The United States used to be among the best educated. However today we are listed much further down among the industrialized countries of the world.

  2. What about the need for retraining teachers to do Restorative Justice Circles? This should be done by educators.

  3. Thank you, Roundtable, for the high quality analysis and reporting of district 65 planning! It does not paint a promising future for our children, who deserve to be challenged and prepared to be more than mediocre.