OK class, multiple choice.

Question: 41% of students in your district (grades 3-8) meet or exceed proficiency in math on their statewide Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) tests. Those results are:

A) Impressive, because they are better than the statewide average.

B) Not impressive, because 59% of your students are still not proficient in a critical subject area.

C) Both.

The correct answer is “C.”

In a news release touting progress on the State School Report Card for 2023, Interim District 65 Superintendent Angel Turner says “D65 continues to outperform state averages” in English, math and science standardized tests administered each year.

And, in keeping with answer “A,” it is impressive that District 65 students did better in than students statewide.

But moving to answer “B,” more than half of the tested students in District 65, while better than their average peers statewide, are still below proficiency in English and Math.

Nothing to shout about.

And despite significant efforts by District 65 to close the long-standing racial achievement gap on standardized test scores, there is basically no difference in the gap in pre-COVID 2019 and post-COVID 2023.

While both white and Black students have recovered much of their COVID-related learning loss (according to yearly report card test results 2019-2023), the racial gap has simply returned to where it was before the pandemic.

For example, in 2019, in English Language Arts, there was a 45% gap between white student proficiency scores and those for Black students. For 2023, the gap is the same percentage.

In Math, the gap was 54% in 2019, and 51% in 2023, a slight improvement. But it’s as much due to a drop in white student performance as an increase in Black student test results.

There are also substantial achievement gaps between white and Hispanic students, and low-income students vs. other students, although the differences are not as great as Black/white.

It’s also possible to “cherry pick” results when issuing a news release.

For example, Turner says “For the first time since the launch in 2018, all D65 schools received “Commendable” and “Exemplary” designations from the Illinois State Board of Education,” based on the test results.

Turner adds a “special shout out to Haven Middle School for all their hard work to move from the ‘Targeted’ [third out of five possibilities] to ‘Commendable [second] designation.”

Haven Middle School.

And considering all of the academic and disciplinary problems Haven had in recent years, that improvement is notable.

However, the interim superintendent did not add that while all D65 schools are either “Commendable” or “Exemplary”, only one school, Orrington, received the highest rating, and another, Willard, fell from “Exemplary” (top 10% in the state) to “Commendable.”

And so now, another question on our test.

Statewide school report cards are:

A) Useful, because they provide valuable data which can help guide curriculum to target students and groups in need of assistance.

B) Over-emphasized (some critics say), because there is more to a child than simply numbers in a test score.

C) Just one element of measurement, as there are other standardized tests which students take, including one called the MAP exam.

D) All of the above.

And the answer is “D.”

And here’s why: The IAR and ISA tests are snapshots in time.

For example, 8th graders who took the tests in 2019 would have already graduated from high school by now.

8th graders who took the test in 2023 are different kids.

So, when the interim superintendent notes that District 65 “outperforms the state in the percentage of eighth-grade students who are passing algebra (91% in District 65 compared to 31% statewide),” it’s just a one-time result with a different group of children each year.

Still, D65 eight-graders do look impressive here compared to the state.

Even more impressive is that the racial achievement gap for passing algebra I in District 65 is only 11%, 94% white vs 83% Black.

Which raises a lot of questions, such as what’s being done to close the huge gap overall to a small one in this particular subject in 8th grade?

A) Type of test.

B) Type of teaching.

C) High-impact tutoring.

D) Perhaps not all 8th grade students take algebra, so the pool of those tested is smaller than the entire 8th grade class, and is more likely to pass the course.

E) All of the above.

F) None of the above. More research/analysis is necessary.

Whatever the answer, Turner says that overall, “we are seeing post-pandemic growth, and yet there is so much more that is needed so that our students can achieve all that we know they are capable of.”

The next round of IAR testing is scheduled for March and early April.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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