District 65 reveals plan for addressing black student achievement

Darby Hopper, Reporter

More than 100 people met Monday at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center to discuss the achievement gap between white and black students in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and the district’s goals for addressing these racial inequities.

The D65 Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss the achievements of black students within the district, which featured input from six selected community leaders, as well as commentary from the public and a Q&A session with the board. The board faced criticism for the format of the meeting, which spanned roughly five hours and featured over 30 data-filled slides.

“What we need to do is set out for you all what our plans are so that we can hear a critique,” said Tracy Quattrocki, the board’s president. “The board views the achievement gap as the single most important concept we face.”

The meeting centered on a report compiled by the district’s research, accountability and data department. The collected data focused on questions of black student achievement in four major areas: early childhood education, K-8 education, special education and school climate, and outside means of support.

In K-8 education, the core of the district’s work, disparities can be seen in various subjects. According to the report, 25 percent of black students and 3 percent of white students tested in the bottom 20 percent for reading achievement based on the Measures of Academic Progress exam. In comparison, 9 percent of black students and 58 percent of white students tested in the top 20 percent.

In the MAP’s mathematics assessment, 10 percent of black students and 60 percent of white students met the college-readiness benchmark, while 34 percent of black students and 3 percent of white students were below the 25th percentile.

The report noted that although it is generally difficult to separate the effect of income from the effect of race or ethnicity — a process made more difficult by the fact that the district’s income benchmark is qualifying for free or reduced lunch and that it has a lack of high-income black and Latino students and low-income white students — the data indicates that race has an effect separate from income.  

Superintendent Paul Goren emphasized that despite the meeting’s focus on statistics, the issues facing the district today are about much more than numbers.

“We have to recognize the urgency of this,” Goren said. “As educators, as Evanstonians, as leaders, we are talking about our children. We have to move.”

For its K-8 curriculum, the Board of Education’s report identifies what it calls key strategies toward remedying these disparities. These include teacher-created assessments to identify student needs, a new literacy framework for grades K-3, targeted support for students testing below the 25th percentile and culturally relevant curricula.   

Another piece of data presented in the board’s report focused on the percentage of students with a disciplinary referral for a major incident in 2015. Although the past four years have seen a decrease in the number of students with referrals — as well as with suspensions — disparities persist.

One of every 20 white students received a referral, whereas five of every 20 black students faced the same punishment. The board announced that it plans to increase restorative justice training to nine schools this year and to have teams work to address classroom culture in all schools by 2017.

The report states that after analyzing all the data, the board will focus on specific actions that fall under goals such as increasing early childhood education, building an environment that reflects the student body and promoting a culture of equity.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @darby_hopper