ACT scores reflect deeper inequities at OPRF

Recent Illinois Report Card data shows persistent racial learning gaps

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

According to this year's Illinois Report Card data, the Oak Park and River Forest High School graduating class of 2015 posted an average composite ACT score of 24, good enough to be among the state's elite public schools. But when OPRF's ACT scores — and the rates of college completion, which the scores are supposed to help predict — are broken down by race, observers might as well be looking at two different schools. 

A recent Chicago Tribune analysis of the Report Card data shows that OPRF was among just 26 high schools in Illinois where at least half of its 2015 graduates scored high enough in all four testing categories — English, math, reading and science — to be considered college-ready. 

According to ACT, the benchmark scores indicating a college readiness for English is an 18; for math and reading a 22 and for science a 23. The national average composite ACT score is a 21 — considered the benchmark composite score indicating college-readiness, which basically means, according to ACT, that a student is likely to earn at least a C in the slate of introductory courses that comprise a typical freshman college curriculum. At OPRF, the 50th percentile ACT scores for 2015 graduates in English, math, reading and science were 24, 23, 24 and 23, respectively.  

However, according to a recent report analyzing post-secondary readiness at OPRF conducted by Amy Hill, the high school's director of assessment and research, the average composite ACT score for black students this year was 19 — markedly below the 27 for white students and slightly below the state average of 21. 

The analysis, which was released in October, indicates that this racial ACT performance disparity translates into a gap in post-secondary completion rates.

"Eighty-six percent of White graduates earned composite scores of 21 or higher, and 70 [percent] earned a post-secondary credential within six years of high school graduation," the analysis notes. "In comparison, 31 [percent] of Black graduates earned composite scores at or above 21, and 38 [percent] attained a post-secondary credential within six years." 

But the gap in ACT performance between white and black students is just a symptom of much deeper historic inequities, the school's data demonstrates. For instance, black students — who account for 24 percent of the school's population — are significantly underrepresented in Honors/AP math and science courses, where they make up 13 and 9 percent of the students in those courses, respectively. 

There's also a vast gap between GPA levels, which the analysis notes is a much more reliable predictor of post-secondary readiness than ACT scores. 

"Analysis of data for OPRFHS 2009 graduates shows a direct relationship between GPA and likelihood of earning a post-secondary degree; students who earned a weighted GPA above 3.0 had a 50 [percent] likelihood of earning a post-secondary degree, and that likelihood increased as weighted GPA increased," according to the report.

More than 80 percent of white students in the class of 2015 had GPAs above 3.0 while the same could be said for roughly 22 percent of black students. The GPA levels and ACT scores for both groups have increased since 2003, but those increases have been markedly divergent. 

The report notes that "racial disparities have widened" between black and white students at OPRF since 2003, when the seminal "Learning Community" report was released. That report concluded that a significant "learning community performance gap" existed between white and black students at the high school. 

"We need to understand how it is that we drove a 2.3 point increase in ACT composite for [whites since 2003] and a 0.7 increase for [blacks in the same time period], how we supported a 0.58 increase in weighted GPA for one group and a 0.3 increase for another, and why our impact is racially disparate," the October analysis notes. 

"Racial disparity in student experiences and outcomes is an adaptive challenge, requiring us to think differently and to change values, beliefs, roles, relationships, and approaches to the problem," the report said.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Ziech Megan  

Posted: November 23rd, 2015 7:33 AM

Hmmm, Yup I am happy with my children's school :)

Jack Hughes  

Posted: November 21st, 2015 1:05 PM

I repeat my comment published in WJ on Feb 1, 2015. "If black lives mattered, there would be fathers at the dinner table and helping with the homework"

Dawn Aditi  

Posted: November 21st, 2015 1:04 PM

Janice, that is a White liberal fantasy that sadly doesn't stand up to harsh reality. I do believe I read someone on this site comment on some related article that even amongst kidlets who happen to be Black and come up thru District 97 from kindergarten, the gap forms around 3rd grade. This proves that it's not a question of inadequate schools or discrimination. It's very complex. I have studied education for years, observed and even worked in a school. Children of color often do not have the extensive conversations with care givers early on. For instance, a White Yuppie mom will do that annoying thing of overdoing communication with their kid to the point of it being totally fake (and nothing is as irksome as a White Yuppie speaking Spanish to their kida) but it builds vocab quite well. So the child has a wealth of word knowledge going into school. A Black kid may ask the parent/caregiver a question and get a one-word answer if anything at all. I have witnessed this--not suggesting it happens 100% of the time so save your breath. White middle/upper-middle-class kidlets also tend to have many more experiences, which broaden their knowledge base and stimulate them. Even lower-income parents can create good outcomes for their kids by simply modeling reading and love of learning but sadly, many may not have those skills to model or consider it a priority.

Janice Rubin Patterson from Oak park  

Posted: November 21st, 2015 12:44 PM

Education starts in the younger grades and the problem is some students start in inferior CPS schools and then the families move to Oakpark for middle school and high school. I understand that they want to good education for the children but sadly the children don't have the foundation the children who go through district 97 from kindergarten on receive

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: November 21st, 2015 12:05 PM

If a group of OPRF's students are averaging a score of 19, wouldn't it be more productive to compare that to other students near us. Proviso East scores a 15.7 and West Leyden scores an 18.2. So OPRF is doing over 20% better than Proviso. Why give OPRF a hard time when they are actually doing an awesome job for any kid who went here instead of there.

Christos Haralambidis  

Posted: November 20th, 2015 1:08 PM

Raymond, you have put what i was trying to say in a far more cogent paragraph. Exactly. Fix that, Mr. and Ms. Administration/School Board, not some perceived racism on the part of the teachers.

Raymond Aikens from oak park  

Posted: November 19th, 2015 6:25 PM

I have sub-taught at every grade level in Oak Park. Have observed, first-hand, the differences in culture and social habits. It's more about belonging, a phenomenon hard to dissect. Any parent that can raise a black child that is academically successful and socially comfortable inside their own skin, capable of effectively mixing with all others earns bragging rights in my book. They have accomplished what most elders only dream about. For example: Being defiant can be cool. Being an honor student can be square. Be aggressive toward those outside your culture and you gain 'face'. Hanging among your own, to the exclusion of others, may be culturally appropriate but more likely a self-esteem issue. Coming home and first doing one's homework might be a good work habit, but for that to happen one must harbor high aspirations and be disciplined against an abundance of distraction. Otherwise, the student will often require supervision. But lower economic status often mean adults still working, leaving kids to make choices for which they may not be adequately prepared.

Dean Rogers from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2015 11:11 AM

I think the problem is more nuanced than this report indicates.What is the GPA or test score for students from single parent families?What about based on family income?I doubt much disparity at all exists if you compare two parent,higher income students, regardless of race.But in Oak Park,the discussion must always begin and end with race.Only through analyzing more complete data,will we begin to understand the underlying problems,and be able to address the situation.This report is misleading,incomplete and irrelevant.Only by asking the right questions will we be able to arrive at solutions.

Christos Haralambidis  

Posted: November 19th, 2015 10:46 AM

There is nothing wrong. It is not the teachers fault. It is and has always been the family's fault. If you do not put emphasis on school, and put emphasis on cultural (or anti-cultural) things, you will get bad scores. We are all born the same, its what sort of environment you grow up in that matters. As a parent i have realized that the teachers in Lincoln School district are nothing special. Its the parents that nurture their children that shows up in the scores all the way up to high school and beyond.

Pete Garcia  

Posted: November 19th, 2015 6:35 AM

Gasp! Must be that evil privilege thing again! That comet can't come quick enough...

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2015 5:09 PM

I don't get what the point is here. Hundreds of kids take a test and some score higher than others. No one is cheating, its a closely monitored standardized test. All the kids are in the same school with the same teachers. They all have access to the same materials. So what is OPRF doing wrong here?

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