On Nov. 18, the District 65 School Board was provided a memo prepared by Kylie Klein, with data showing how District 65’s students did on the 2019 Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) that was administered in the spring by the Illinois State Board of Education. The IAR replaced the PARCC assessment that was administered between 2015 and 2018. Before PARCC, ISBE administered the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

ISBE says the IAR measures the same standards and includes the same high-quality test questions used for the last four years on the PARCC test, which “ensures comparability from year to year.” ISBE adds that switching from PARCC to the IAR reduced the testing time by about one-third.

Ms. Klein’s memo was provided to the Board as an information item, but Board members discussed some of the test data for about 10 minutes at their Nov. 18 meeting. Ms. Klein is scheduled to provide the Board with the District’s Achievement and Accountability Report in January, but there has been no commitment on what test data that report will cover.

The IAR data, available on ISBE’s website, continues to show significant gaps in achievement between white, Hispanic and black students in both English Language Arts (ELA) and math. The data also shows that:

  • Significantly higher percentages of District 65 third-graders were on track to college readiness than eighth-graders;
  • Large percentages of black and Hispanic students are scoring below the 40th Illinois percentile in both ELA and math; and
  • Significantly lower percentages of students met college readiness benchmarks on the 2019 IAR than met college readiness on the ISATs in 2014.

On May 4, 2017, Sean Reardon, Ph.D., Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, discussed the wide gap in test scores between white and black and Hispanic students at School District 65, which he characterized as an “opportunity gap.” In a massive research project, Dr. Reardon and his team have gathered and analyzed well over 200 million test scores of 3rd through 8th graders in nearly all public schools in the country between 2009 and 2016. The research team has also put together multiple indicators of poverty for virtually every school district in the country.

Dr. Reardon acknowledges that test scores do not measure everything parents or a community want for their children, saying, “We also want them to learn art and music, to learn to be empathetic and kind, creative and collaborative, and to have good friends and be happy – it’s not all about math and reading.”

But, test scores are a standardized measure of academic achievement and growth.

In a study published in September, “Dr. Reardon 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, child care 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. Moreover, in saying that test score gaps reflect differences in opportunities, we also mean that they are not the result of innate group differences in cognitive skills or other genetic endowments. While differences in two individual children’s academic performance may reflect both individual differences and differences in educational opportunities, differences in average scores should be understood as reflecting opportunity gaps, given that there are not between-group average differences in genetic endowments or innate academic ability.”In that spirit, the scores reported here measure how well School District 65 and the Evanston community, as a whole, are providing equitable opportunities to the children in Evanston.

College Readiness on IAR

The IAR gives the percentage of students, by subgroup, who scored in each of five performance levels:

• Level 1: Did not yet meet expectations,

• Level 2: Partially met expectations,

• Level 3: Approached expectations,

• Level 4: Met expectations, and

• Level 5: Exceeded expectations

ISBE says, “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.”

The table below shows the percentage of District 65 third- through eighth-graders, by subgroup, who scored in levels 4 and 5 and met or exceeded expectations on the 2019 IAR. These students are on track to college and career readiness.

     % D65 Students Who Met or

Exceeded Expectations on 2019 IAR                    

                        ELA    Math

Black                 18       14

Hispanic           25        25

White                63       67

Low-income     18       17

IEP                      11      13

The charts below show trends: the percentage of white, Hispanic, and black students who met or exceeded expectations in ELA and math on the PARCC exam for the years 2015 through 2018, and the IAR in 2019. The data is taken from ISBE’s website.



On a Statewide basis, 38% of students in the State met/exceeded expectations for ELA and 32% met/exceeded expectations in math on the 2019 IAR. Thus, the benchmark scores correspond to the 62nd Illinois percentile in ELA and the 68th percentile in math.

Differences Between Third and Eighth Grade

ISBE provides results for student subgroups at each grade level tested. The data shows that District 65’s black, Hispanic, white, and low-income students did significantly better on the 2019 IAR at third grade than at eighth grade. This was the case for both the ELA and the math portions of the assessment.

As examples:

  • 69% of white third-graders met or exceeded expectations in ELA, but only 53% of white eighth-graders did so.
  • 25% of black third-graders met or exceeded expectations in math, but only 9% of black eighth-graders did so.

The charts and the tables below show the percentages of third graders and eighth graders, by subgroup, who met or exceeded expectations in ELA and math on the 2019 IAR. The data is taken from ISBE’s website.

The charts and tables do not contain data for the same cohort of students. So for example, they do not reflect whether or not the eighth-graders who took the IAR in 2019 lost ground from the time they were third-graders in 2014, or by how much.

The table below, though, shows that between 2016 and 2019 fewer eighth-graders met or exceeded expectations than third graders. The table also shows a steady decline at eighth grade and shows that the greatest differences between third and eighth grade are for 2018 and 2019. The table shows the percentage of all District 65 third-graders who met or exceeded expectations in ELA and math on the 2015 through 2018 PARCC tests and the 2019 IAR test. The data is taken from ISBE’s website.

% D65 3rd and 8th Graders Meeting or

Exceeding Expectations, 2015-2019

ELA        2015   2016   2017   2018   2019

3rd Gr      46         47       43       42        49

8th Gr      49         42       41       34        37

Math

3rd Gr      49         58        50       49        54

8th Gr       51        48        45       33        38                      

On a statewide basis, eighth graders scored better than third graders in ELA on the 2019 IAR – contrary to the pattern at District 65; but eighth graders scored significantly lower in math than third graders – consistent with the pattern at District 65.

 On a statewide basis on the 2019 IAR, 39% of Illinois third graders met or exceeded expectations in ELA, and 32% did so in math.

On the 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress, 39% of Illinois 8th graders met the proficiency standards in ELA, and 32% did so in math – the same percentages as for the 2019 IAR.

Measuring Results Using “Approaching Expectations”

The third performance level is “approached expectations.” On a Statewide basis, 65% of all students in the State scored in the top three performance levels in ELA on the 2019 IAR test; 59% did so in math.

Thus the scores used to identify whether a student approached expectations correspond to the 35th Illinois percentile in ELA and to the 41st Illinois percentile in math.

The charts and tables below show the percentage of white, Hispanic, black and low-income students who scored in the top three performance levels on the 2019 IAR test, or in other words, who approached, met, or exceeded expectations. The data is taken from ISBE’s website.

On an overall basis, 63% of the District’s white students, 50% of its Hispanic students and 43% of its black students scored in the top three performance levels on the 2019 IAR in ELA. And, 87% of the District’s white students, 52% of its Hispanic students, and 39% of its black students scored in the top three performance categories in math.

Conversely, very high percentages of Hispanic and black students scored in the bottom two categories:

  • 57% of black students and 50% of Hispanic student scored in the bottom two performance levels in ELA, meaning that they scored below the 35th Illinois percentile in ELA.
  • 61% of black students and 48% of Hispanic students scored in the bottom two performance levels in math, meaning that they scored below the 41st Illinois percentile in math.

College Readiness Over Time

In August 2011, the District 65 School Board set as a goal that students have the necessary skills and knowledge to be on track for college readiness. At that time, the Board decided to measure college readiness using benchmarks identified for the ISATs by Paul Zavitkovsky of the Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago.  

The benchmark scores identified by Mr. Zavitkovsky for the ISAT corresponded to the 60th Illinois percentile in reading and the 68th Illinois percentile in math. The scores were predictive of having a 50% chance of obtaining a B in a related course in the first year of college. 

On an overall basis, the benchmark scores to meet or exceed expectations on the 2019 IAR correspond to the 62nd Illinois percentile in reading and the 68th Illinois percentile in math – virtually the same as those identified by Mr. Zavitkovsky for the ISATs.

While the percentile ranks for college and career readiness match up for the ISAT and PARCC tests, significantly lower percentages of District 65 students met the benchmarks for college readiness on the 2017 and 2018 PARCC and the 2019 IAR tests, than on the 2012, 2013  and 2014 ISATs.

For example:

  • On the 2014 ISAT, 84% of white students met the college readiness benchmark in reading; on the 2019 IAR, only 63% did.
  • On the 2014 ISAT, 29% of black students met the college readiness benchmark in ELA; on the 2019 IAR, only 18% did.

The charts and tables below show the percentage of District 65 students, by subgroup, who met the college readiness benchmarks on the ISATs and the PARCC and IAR tests in ELA and math for the years indicated. The data for the ISATs was taken from District 65’s achievement reports. The data for the PARCC and IAR tests was taken from ISBE’s website.

While the tests differ, significantly fewer District 65 students scored at or above the 60th Illinois percentile in reading and at or above the 68th Illinois percentile in math in the period 2017-19 than in 2012-2014.

Board Comments

Board member Candance Chow said, “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s important to look for nuggets of where we’re seeing investments and returns.”

She held up the results of Kingsley Elementary School where 79% of the third-graders were met or exceeded expectations in ELA and 77% in math. She added that 39% of black third-graders met or exceeded expectations in ELA, and 48% of black third-graders did so in math – which is higher than the District-wide average.

Ms. Chow said the District should “try to build from a place of strength,” and asked, “Are there other spaces that we can build and grow on”

Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said the one-to-one literacy assessments also showed progress in the primary grades last year, and added that the difference between the average for District 65 students and the average for all students in the State was the highest at the third-grade level – which she said showed progress at third grade.

Dr. Beardsley added that the District is focusing on increasing the rigor of instruction this year and continuing to enhance restorative practices. She said administrators see those “as being critical levers to accelerating growth and continuing ideally to build on some of the foundational work we’ve set up around the curriculum.”

Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said the School Improvement Team at Kingsley has been working for three years on improving instruction in math through flexible grouping, and through the use of coaching and other techniques. “That strategic planning process goes back three years. I think it’s a model for all our schools to more closely get into really addressing the learning needs of the adults to be able to build their capacity to support children.”

“There are pockets of improvement happening across demographic groups, across schools, across student populations, and so there are a lot of things we can learn from looking at this data and using the interactive tool” on the ISBE’s website, said Ms. Klein.

Ms. Klein added that she prepared a tutorial that members of the community could use to access the IAR data on ISBE’s website.

Board President Suni Kartha encouraged everyone in the community to look at the IAR results on the ISBE website and to dig into the data.

The Impact of Poverty

The wide gap in achievement by race/ethnicity is due in part to differences in opportunity associated with household income. 

Last year, the District provided the RoundTable with income data for the 2018-19 school year: 72% of the District’s black students were from low-income households, and 90% of that group qualified for free lunch (which is a lower-income level than reduced-fee lunch; 63% of Latinx students were from low-income households, and 82% of that group qualified for free lunch; 7% of white students were from low-income households and 86% of that group qualified for free lunch.

This is a long-standing pattern. For the last five years,  approximately 70% of the black students enrolled in District 65 qualified for free lunch, and an additional 6-8% qualified for reduced-fee lunch. In contrast, about 6% of white students qualified for free or reduced-fee lunch.

Using data available from the Stanford University Education Data Archive, Mr. Zavitkovsky determined that black students in School District 65 are at the 16th National Family Income Percentile, compared to white students who are at the 98th percentile.

The differences in income levels are stark, and differences in the degree of wealth and the corresponding opportunities matter. In a video presentation titled “The Rise in the Income Achievement Gap, on Nov. 10, 2016, Dr. Reardon said, “Poor children lag about three to four grades behind their high income peers in school, and middle class children lag about two grade levels behind their high income peers in school.” 

In his presentation at ETHS on May 4, 2017, Dr. Reardon said, “There’s lots of reasons that provide opportunities for white students in Evanston. The same is not true for African American and low-income students. They’re not failing. They are well above what you would predict, but they are still well below the level of scores of white and affluent students.

 “To reduce educational inequality we need to think about strategies that involve whole communities, not just the school system,” said Dr. Reardon. “We need to think about early childhood opportunities, equality of neighborhood environments, supports for families with children to make sure they can be the best parents, the first teachers, for their children. We need to think then about how the school system can sort of integrate with those other community organizations so there’s a wrap-around focus on equity.”