D65 reviews reading report on racial achievement

Pearl Wu

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 thanked a Northwestern professor at Tuesday night’s school board meeting for a study he conducted on racial achievement in the district.

The reading evaluation report, produced by Education Prof. Fred Hess, researched the methods used by District 65 teachers who produced above-average achievement scores with black and Latino students.

Hess told the board members that teachers who did not split students into groups by their ability had more success with minority students.

“In the context of District 65, the use of ability groups segregated kids by race,” Hess said, noting that District 65’s white students are often placed in higher achievement groups and minority students tend to fall into lower achievement categories.

The study was conducted by observing teachers who succeeded with minority achievement and comparing them to those who did not. The teachers, all volunteers, were not told about the study’s purpose.

The achievement levels for the minority students in the study were measured by standardized tests, including the Illinois State Achievement Test, Hess said.

The more successful teachers also assigned more homework and silent reading, used technology more efficiently, had greater in-depth discussion on readings and had higher expectations for students’ achievement.

The report also showed that the more successful teachers tended to take a more hands-on approach to education.

“The target teachers were more relentless,” Hess said. “They focused less on race and ethnicity.”

Board member Jonathan Baum suggested that report results be shared with District 65 teachers.

“We could get reactions from our teachers,” Baum said. “Do they think these are good practices or off the wall?”

The survey, which would have cost the district $96,000, was conducted for little cost by The Lighthouse Partnership a group of NU researchers founded by Hess in 2000.

“We wanted to thank you,” board member Marianne Kountoures said. “I understand that it’s (without significant) cost to the district. Thank you to Northwestern.”

In other business Tuesday, the board renewed Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy’s contract for another two years.

“Thanks to the board,” Murphy said. “The district is on the verge of doing special things.”

Baum, who voted against approving the contract renewal, questioned why the board was evaluating the superintendent now.

“A better time to evaluate would be at the end of this year, when the superintendent can satisfy the board’s expectations,” Baum said. “And I look forward to him doing so.”

The board was also scheduled to discuss the future of a guideline that states no school can have more than 60 percent of its student body be of one race. But as of 10:30 p.m. the discussion had not begun.