D97 releases numbers that further break down the gap

Income and gender figures also show differences

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By TERRY DEAN

According to recently released figures from District 97, a much higher percentage of black third- and fifth-graders tested in reading and math at Beye Elementary School under No Child Left Behind guidelines fall into the low-income category than their white counterparts (a difference of 68 percent). In addition, black female students consistently outperform black males throughout the district.

The numbers were released in response to questions raised at the Jan. 17 Beye forum on the school's minority student achievement gap. Dist. 97 released data for all elementary and middle schools, which includes eighth-grade students tested in reading and math.

District-wide, Percy Julian Middle School has the second highest "income gap" at 57.4 percent. At the elementary school level, Longfellow followed Beye with a 52.9-percent low-income differential.

The income gap reflects the difference between the percentage of black students tested who are low income vs. the percent of low-income white students who were tested.

The data not only shows an income gap between tested black and white students, but also achievement differentials between black male and black female students in the district. Black females outperformed black males at Beye and at most other Dist. 97 schools.

Forty-eight percent of Beye's black females, for instance, met or exceeded standards in reading compared to 33.3 percent of black male students. Except for Lincoln Elementary and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, where both black males and females tested almost equally in reading, black females outperformed black males consistently. White male and female students, however, met or exceeded reading standards in greater percentages than both black male and female students district-wide. The trend is similar in math.

The reading and math gaps represent the percent of tested white students who met or exceeded standards set under 'No Child' minus the percent of blacks who met or exceeded standards.

At Irving Elementary, black males and females tested equally with 70.4 percent meeting or exceeding standards in math.

At Mann Elementary, 100 percent of black females, white males and white females met or exceeded standards in math while 72 percent of black males met or exceeded standards. Mann's income gap is the lowest in the district at 17.9 percent.

Does that indicate low-income students are more likely to perform poorly? Not necessarily, said district officials. While Longfellow's income gap is second to Beye, its black male and female students outperformed Beye's in reading and math.

The data does, however, give a clearer picture of the gap along gender and income levels, Dist. 97 officials point out.

"Since the question was raised at the Beye forum, we thought that it was a valid one," said Mark Pickus, student achievement data analyst for Dist. 97.

The released figures were compiled with data taken from students who took the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), including eighth graders at Gwendolyn Brooks and Percy Julian middle schools. The district previously had not done a gender achievement breakdown for black male and female students.

Dist. 97's data, particularly the achievement performances between black males and females at the elementary and middle school levels, is consistent with national figures.

"That doesn't relieve us of our responsibility," said Pickus. "We know we have a responsibility to eliminate the achievement gap. But for those students who are low-income and who are at the same time struggling academically, these numbers may give us information to help provide better instruction to them."

The Dist. 97 board of education approved a math assessment in spring 2005. District-wide, third- and fifth-graders will be assessed in math prior to the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in March. The district will also consider expanding that to reading, Pickus said.

CONACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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