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New report, same old results on reading scores

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Administrators of both Evanston school districts presented new reports at a joint school board meeting Monday night that still show half to three-quarters of black and Hispanic students in grades 3-11 reading below grade level.

After setting a goal in January 2014 “that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach the 12th grade,” members of the District 65 and District 202 school boards have been frustrated by the lack of progress toward meeting that goal.

Different assessments are used in the two districts and two years ago the boards asked for reporting that would allow them to see what progress students are making as they progress through elementary, middle and high school grades. 

Last night’s joint literacy goal update combines data from both districts for the class of 2022 (currently high school sophomores) showing that the two assessments “are largely measuring grade level literacy in a comparable manner” and the administrations are comfortable using the data to measure progress.

However the data shows that 36-50% of all students in grades 3-11 are not reading at grade level, with a much higher percentage (up to 79%) of black and Hispanic students failing to meet grade level thresholds. 

District 202 board member Gretchen Livingston said she appreciated the new report while being disturbed by its substance and asked if administrators had noticed anything in the data for the first time. 

Peter Bavis, ETHS assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that Table 8 shows median data for grades 9-11. The median for students meeting grade level scores is 12 or 13, the highest grade possible in the assessment, while the median for students who don’t meet the standard ranges from 6 to 8. “That influences the supports and summer programming we offer,” he said. 

With the median, “we can look at the distance to the goal,” said Stacy Beardsley, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for District 65. “We can isolate that group and work on progress toward the goal.”

“There’s a lot of data for the individual school teams to determine actionable strategies,” said Kylie Klein, District 65 director of research, accountability and data. 

Some board members asked for more data, going back to 2014 when the literacy goal was set, to help evaluate progress. Others asked for information on what strategies and programs are working so that those can be scaled up and repeated. 

Still others want to focus on looking at the whole child to determine why they are struggling and find ways to get the community involved in supporting students and families.

“We’ve gotten so much into the data that we’ve lost the student,” said Pat Savage-Williams, D202 school board president. “This isn’t new data. It doesn’t surprise me but it upsets me tremendously. The cycles keep repeating themselves.”

“We put this literacy goal in place in 2014,” she said. “It’s now 2020. When do we start working on it? How do we hold everybody accountable? This is our reality. The rubber meets the road right here.”

“Lack of surprise does not mean lack of outrage,” said Elisabeth Lindsay-Ryan, D65 board member. “What’s working? We want to hear from the experts. Our goal is to fund the things that are working.” 

Related stories

School boards settle on literacy progress reporting (2/17/2019)

School boards frustrated by literacy report (11/1/2018)

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