Mind the gap

ISATs show the largest achievement gap in D97. What is going on at Beye?

Opinion

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Oliver Pergams, Ph.D.. One View

My now we have had a little time to digest the latest District 97 ISAT scores. The title of the Oct. 4 Wednesday Journal article, "D97 elementary schools score well on ISATs though 'gap' remains: Achievement gap, middle school math scores a frustration" pretty well captures the main points.

The achievement gap is more than just a frustration, though. It is a vicious, long-term problem that is not getting better, and it is much worse at some Oak Park schools than others. To illustrate this, I put together two graphs illustrating the minority achievement gap from 2002-2005. Both graphs use the same data as the Journal article, but the data are presented differently to better show the achievement gap.

The top chart, 2002-2005 Oak Park Elementary Minority Achievement Gap, uses the average of all Reading and Math scores of all grades tested over 2002-2005. It is the global average achievement gap over the past four years for each school. The gap is the difference between the percent of Black and White students (categories used by Dist. 97) meeting or exceeding standards. In this and the following chart, Mann data for 2003 are calculated on only third grades and for 2004 only on fifth grades because of insufficient black children otherwise.

What really stands out to me is Beye Elementary School, the school where two of my biracial kids went and where the other one is still going. The dotted line is the mean of all seven schools other than Beye at about 31 percent. Beye's 4-year mean achievement gap is about 55 percent, 24 percent more than the mean of the other schools and 18 percent more than the next biggest gap at Whittier.

The bottom chart splits up the years. The dotted line remains at the 31 percent mean for all schools other than Beye. We can see that not only does Beye have the highest average gap over the last four years, but that it has the biggest gap every single year. Longfellow almost tied in 2003, but otherwise there's no contest at all. This year Beye has a 50-percent minority achievement gap, and the three years before that the gap there ranged from 45 percent to a truly mind-blowing 68 percent.

Let's try to wrap our minds around these numbers. They mean that between 2002 and 2005, on average, 93 percent of white children at Beye met or exceeded standards in reading and math, but only 38 percent of black children did. Within this mean, the numbers were as bad as 91 percent and 23 percent. Remember, these are black and white kids in the same classes with the same teachers.

Please think about that. And please don't try and use standard pedagogic excuses like differential financial status or parental involvement because Beye consistently has a much bigger gap than any other school, including those with similar demographics and geography.

So what is going on at Beye?

Please don't get me wrong: I've been very encouraged by various new measures taken to address the achievement gap by Dist. 97 under the leadership of Supt. Connie Collins and with the help of Lynn Allen, Kevin Anderson, Mark Pickus, and an able school board.

But I would like to emphasize that, whatever measures are taken, Beye represents a special and severe problem, and needs to be especially and immediately considered.

Oliver Pergams, Ph.D. is a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago..

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