First the good news: Evanston/Skokie School District 65 students are performing at or above national averages. Now the bad news: Those scoring in the bottom quartile are predominantly students of color.
Unlike Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegone, all of Evanston/Skokie’s children are not above average, and the District 65 administration and board are working hard to change that, especially for black and latinx students.
(Note: The term “latinx” is a relatively new term designed to minimize sexual discrimination in describing persons of Hispanic heritage.)
In reading, for example, some 60.5 percent of students met the college readiness benchmarks last year, but for white students it was 83.7 percent, while for black students it was 30.6 percent, and for latinx students, 36.2 percent.
In math, the percentage of all students meeting the college readiness benchmarks was 56.6 percent. For white students it was 80.2 percent, while for black students it was 22.0 percent and for latinx students it was 34.2 percent.
Asian students, on the other hand, did even better than average. In reading, they scored at 71.2 percent, and in math, they scored at 68.8 percent.
On the plus side, if you consider that, statistically, exactly 25 percent of all students are in the bottom quartile, the district’s scores do not seem to be all bad. Only 16.1 percent are in the bottom 25 percent in reading, and only 16.3 percent in math.
“It is our mission,” declared Superintendent Paul Goren at this week’s district board meeting, “to continue to improve our schools, to improve instruction, and to improve school climate so that our black and latinx students and their families find places of learning that motivate and ensure the type of success experienced by many others.”
And the board, comprised mostly of citizens of color, appeared to back him in that quest.
Accordingly, the district has designated Racial Equity as its top priority.
Unfortunately, success in school begins at birth, and by the time the kids reach kindergarten at the age of 5, many are already well behind, and the district is forced to devote considerable resources to bring them up to speed, particularly in reading and mathematics skills.
Much of that work is expended on students in grades kindergarten through third grade, under the theory that if kids are unable to read by the time they finish those early years, it is almost impossible for them to succeed in their classes in the later years.
In those early years, Goren said, there are a number of interventions at work “to provide learning opportunities for kids before and after school.”
The district is also focused, he said, on “school climate work, emphasizing relationships and safety, using our equity lens on issues like suspensions and office referrals.”
All of the school principals, Goren emphasized, “are creating school work plans that address performance and school climate issues at their schools and are identifying avenues for improvement.”
The district itself, he added, is changing its hiring practices, “using an equity lens to frame questions for all hires, and expanding our hiring pool to include more educators of color.”
But the achievement gap that continues to frustrate educators and boards at both of Evanston’s school districts, “exists when children land in kindergarten,” Goren said.
Accordingly, he is convening a group of experts, practitioners, and community members “to examine our early childhood programming so we can understand our practices, our outcomes, and what changes we may have to make.”
That task force, he said, will have its first meeting in October. But in addition, Goren said he is “looking for the early childhood provider community and our community partners, including Cradle to Career, to consider how we all must address and improve kindergarten readiness.”
He said he is also looking to the entire community to assist in this effort “to support students during out-of-school time with mentors, activities, and opportunities. We must work on these issues together, with a commitment to not stop until we see significant improvements.”