At the Dec. 19 meeting of the District 65 School Board, Superintendent Devon Horton defended the district’s decision to lower the bar used to measure whether students are on track to college readiness in reading. The new benchmarks on the MAP test correspond to the 45th percentile nationally, an estimated 1.6 years of academic growth below the district’s former college ready benchmark at eighth grade, according to a RoundTable analysis.

In his remarks introducing the five-year goals, Horton said he wanted to “provide some clarity” about the academic goals. He said, “There was an article that was released last Thursday, and there’s some confusion. I want to be very clear.

“So, it would really be malpractice for us to use one set of goals, one goal, and say, ‘Here’s how we’re performing.’ While we know academics and standardized testing is a hallmark of our education system, there are other ways.”

A graphic summarizing the academic goals, presented by Horton at the meeting, is reproduced below.

In addressing the goals related to academic performance, Horton talked about the four academic goals separately without addressing the extent to which the district lowered the bar to meet “college readiness” in reading.

Goal 1: College Readiness. Horton said the baseline data showed that 73% of the district’s students met “college readiness” on the MAP test, using benchmark scores linked to the SAT’s college readiness benchmarks, which correspond to the 45th percentile nationally. The benchmark scores are significantly lower than the prior benchmarks used by District 65 that were linked to the ACT college readiness and that correspond to the 60th percentile nationally.

“Our goal by 2027 is to reach 80%. This is our floor data, meaning at a minimum, this is where we’re targeting for a different set of data,” said Horton.

For math, he said the goal was to increase the percentage of students meeting college readiness from 43% to 50%. He added that the benchmark to measure whether students were on track to college readiness in math was a MAP score linked to the SAT’s college readiness benchmarks, but that score was “identical” to the MAP score linked to the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks.

Goal 2: Bottom Quartile. Horton said the second academic goal is to reduce the percentage of students scoring at or below the 25th percentile on the MAP test in reading from 16% to 6%, and in math from 19% to 9%.

Goal 3: Meeting Growth Targets. Horton said a third academic goal is to increase the percentage of students meeting or exceeding growth targets on MAP from 66% to 75% in reading and from 66% to 75% in math.

“The expected growth does not mean they met the mark, but it’s showing that learning is taking place,” he said.

Goal 4: Meeting Standards on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness. The fourth goal is to increase the percentage of students “meeting or exceeding on IAR.”

Horton said, “What’s really critical, and I want everyone to hear this loud and clear, we take a state assessment, the IAR, in Illinois. If you’re not aware, we have the highest set of learning standards in the entire country, not the Midwest, not this region, but in the entire country. We are being bold because the district has never set goals around the state assessment. You remember that scary word PARCC everyone was running from. IAR is PARCC. It has the highest set of standards that you can have in grades three through eight in the nation. We were 40% with our IAR for reading and for math back in the spring. We have set a goal of 55% in five years, that is a 3% gain, potentially it may be a 3 to 5, it may be higher.

“But we have raised expectations, in spite of our talks about equity. We are continuing to push the needle and trying to lift our students where we have not been before.

“So again, there is a ceiling, and there is a floor. The IAR is the highest set of standards that you can set goals in. So just please be clear that our highest set of goals is for IAR to move from 40% to 55% by the five-year mark.”

He said he would talk about the district’s goals at every board meeting “because it’s critical that we get the facts and the truth when we’re speaking about our expectations for our students, especially under the umbrella of equity.”

The district plans to report progress in meeting the college readiness goal and the other goals based on MAP three times a year, after the MAP tests are administered in the fall, winter and spring. Since the IAR is only given in the spring of each year, the district plans to report the percentage of students “meeting and/or exceeding on IAR” once a year.

On the IAR administered in the spring of 2019, 39.6% of the students in Illinois who took the test met or exceeded standards. In 2018, the percentage was 36.4%. The cut scores to meet standards in those years corresponded to about the 61st and the 63rd Illinois percentiles.

The District 65 School Board historically used the 60th Illinois percentile in reading as the benchmark for college readiness in reading. The MAP scores that are linked to ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in reading currently correspond, on average, to the 60th percentile.

Horton also spoke about the district’s other five-year goals. One goal is to have a 95% student attendance rate and to maintain that rate for the next five years as a minimum, he said.

Another set of goals relates to discipline and suspensions. The district plans to reduce the percentage of students having between one and three disciplinary referrals to 10%, to reduce the percent of students suspended on a districtwide basis to 5%, and to reduce the percent of students suspended by race, income status and disability status to 5%.

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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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