River Forest District 90 implemented new curriculum and instructional practices described online as “The Crosswalk” and “Vision for Equity”; however, test scores suggest student learning may have declined even before schools shuttered due to COVID-19. 

The latest release of the Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project (EOMP), a Stanford University Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) initiative, describes high average test scores, but a disturbing learning rate lagging far behind others. Whereas students in Hinsdale, LaGrange and Winnetka are learning 10, 17 and 29 percent more per year than the average U.S. student, respectively, River Forest students appear to be learning less than the national average.

The CEPA research group describes their goal as “clarifying patterns and trends in the equality of educational opportunities and outcomes in the United States,” and it does so using reading and math test score data from third through eighth grades for every public school in the nation from 2008-2009 to the 2017-2018 school years. A large part of their effort is stitching together data describing school effectiveness and overcoming sources of discontinuity stemming from district changes in testing, standards or the timing of certain activities. The group developed an online visualization tool so that journalists, educators, policymakers and parents have a way to explore school effectiveness (http://edopportunity.org) using several measures, two of these are Average Test Scores and Average Learning Rate.

Measures of school effectiveness use the U.S. national average as a benchmark. For example, an Average Test Scores value of 0.0 suggests student achievement equal to the U.S. average, a value of 1.0 one full grade ahead, 2.0 two grades ahead and so forth. 

Learning Rate measures how much student test scores improve each year, a measure the CEPA group describes as best for determining school effectiveness. Learning Rate uses the same benchmark, a value of 0.0 indicates learning as much in one year as the average U.S. student. A Learning Rate value of 10.0 suggests learning 10% more than average, etc. and negative values mean learning less than the U.S. average. For context on this U.S. average benchmark, in 2019 the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported only 34% of U.S. eighth-grade students achieving at or above proficiency in reading and math. 

River Forest has been a sought-after school district for a variety of reasons; historically high student achievement is one. The EOMP describes River Forest Average Test Scores roughly three grades ahead of the national average, and comparable with other high-performing districts. While 10 years of River Forest data wrapped up into one Average Test Scores value suggests success, the negative value for average Learning Rate over that time is cause for concern, or at minimum cause to investigate further. These results summarize school effectiveness before COVID-19 interrupted learning. Moreover, it would take a steep decline in Average Test Scores to pull a 10-year average Learning Rate into negative territory. The Illinois State Board of Education did recently downgrade two of three River Forest schools so that none have the state’s “exemplary” status. Something has changed. 

Next time I’ll explore the trend behind these 10-year averages, look deeper into math and reading and step out farther into the crosswalk. In this series, and as an advocate for children and District 90, I hope to help explain causes and effects so that River Forest might return to a district offering excellence for all.

On a bright note, racial diversity among River Forest students rose over the last decade where now one third of the student body identifies as non-white. Over that same decade, the EOMP shows a school system with no evidence of racial predictability of achievement. Isn’t this another good reason to bring a shiny red apple back to school? 

SIDEBAR

Learning rates and average test scores 

Among comparable districts, as described by Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project (edopportunity.org). The following districts are described as comparable to River Forest.

K-8 districts * Learning Rate * +- meas. error * Avg. Test Scores * +- meas. error

Northbrook 27        38.0                 6.7                  2.9                   0.10

Winnetka 36           29.8                 9.2                  2.7                   0.20

Union Ridge 86      28.3                 7.4                  1.1                   0.10

Butler 53                23.1                 8.0                  3.7                   0.10

Glenview 30           21.2                 7.0                   3.3                   0.10

Lagrange Highlands 106    21.0     7.5                  2.3                   0.10

Western Springs 101          21.0     6.6                  3.2                   0.10

LaGrange 102        17.3                 6.0                  2.3                   0.09

Pleasantdale 107    12.8                 7.6                  2.0                   0.10

Franklin Park 84    10.8                 6.2                  0.1                   0.09

Hinsdale 181          10.0                 6.5                  3.2                   0.09

LaGrange 105        9.2                   6.4                  0.9                   0.10

Skokie 69               8.0                   6.6                   0.1                   0.10

Rosemont 78          6.6                   8.6                  0.9                   0.10

Glencoe 35             6.4                   7.0                  2.8                   0.10

Hillside 93              5.6                   7.2                  -0.5                  0.10

Riverside 96           5.6                   6.4                  1.9                   0.09

Gower 62               4.1                   7.1                  2.5                   0.10

Oak Park 97           1.3                   8.1                  1.8                   0.10

Northbrook 28        -0.6                  6.8                  2.2                   0.10

River Forest 90      -1.8                  7.5                   3.1                   0.10

Komarek 94           -11.3                7.6                  0.5                   0.10

Learning rate: A measure of how much students’ scores improve each year while they are in school compared to the national average. Example, 10% indicates learning 10% more per year than the national average.                                                     

Avg. Test Scores: The educational opportunities available in a community, both in and out of school, are reflected in students’ average test scores. They are influenced by opportunities to learn at home, in neighborhoods, in child care, preschool, and after-school programs, from peers and friends, and at school. An Average Test Score value of 1.0 indicates achievement one full grade higher than the national average.

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