When faculty at S.E. Gross School pulled out the hair clippers and started shearing the locks off Principal Todd Fitzgerald in September, families served by Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 knew students had done well on the 2011 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) last spring.

On Oct. 31, the community found out just how well the school district performed on that standardized exam, which is used by the Illinois State Board of Education to determine compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

District-wide, 92 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in reading and math, the highest marks the district has received since NCLB became law in 2003. The district and both of its schools – Brook Park School and S.E. Gross Middle School – met adequate yearly progress (AYP) as determined by NCLB, which set the bar this year at 85 percent.

One statistic that stands out, however, relates to the performance of Hispanic students, who now make up 23 percent of District 95’s enrollment. Just five years ago, when Hispanic students were just 10 percent of the enrollment, their achievement in reading and math lagged behind their white counterparts, particularly in reading.

But D95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said the test results are not because the district has targeted specific subgroups. Rather, it’s due to a conscious decision to improve instruction for all students.

“Our approach was not to identify certain individuals or groups of kids,” Kuzniewski said. “If we improve instruction across the board, all students will be able to achieve, and I think that’s what you’re seeing.”

In 2006, 83.3 percent of white students in D95 met state standards in reading, but just 65.5 percent of Hispanics hit those benchmarks. In math, the gap was narrower, with 89.3 percent of white students and 80 percent of Hispanic students meeting or exceeding state standards.

But in 2011, a higher percentage of Hispanic students district-wide and in both schools individually hit AYP in both reading and math than any other subgroup, including white students, on the ISAT. The change comes at the same time the district is seeing more non-native English speakers enroll (4.6 percent in 2011 versus 2.4 percent in 2006).

In reading, 91.8 percent of Hispanic students tested met state standards in reading compared to 90.3 percent of white students. Meanwhile, in math, 96.2 percent of Hispanic students met state standards compared to 91.5 percent of white students.

While the achievement of Hispanic students in many area schools has been improving, it’s the first time in Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside that Hispanic students have out-achieved white students in meeting state standards.

However, when it comes to exceeding state standards, white students in 2011 still outpace their Hispanic counterparts in both reading and math in every grade tested. And the percentage of both white and Hispanic students exceeding state standards in reading and math has continued to improve over time.

In 2006, for example, 12.5 percent of white students exceeded state reading standards and 21.5 percent exceeded math standards in seventh grade. No Hispanic students exceeded state standards in either subject in 2006.

In 2011, the percentage of white students exceeding standards in reading and math jumped to 27 and 38.2 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, in 2011, 14.3 percent of Hispanic students exceeded standards in reading and 23.8 percent in math.

In addition, many fewer Hispanic seventh-graders in 2011 failed to meet state standards in either subject compared to 2006.

Five years ago, 63.6 percent of Hispanic seventh-graders did not meet state standards in reading, and 36.4 percent did not meet standards in math. In 2011, just 9.5 percent of Hispanic seventh-graders failed to meet state reading standards. All Hispanic seventh-graders in 2011 met state standards in math.

That is part of the district’s three-year effort to improve instruction for students through differentiation, or by tailoring instruction based on individual students’ abilities, said Kuzniewski.

“Our hope is that, at some point, they’re all exceeding,” said Kuzniewski.

In recent years there has also been a focus on reading, said Kuzniewski, which is reflected in the improved scores in that subject over time. In addition to improvements in reading by Hispanic students, reading achievement improved for white students and improved dramatically for the district’s low-income students (from 68.4 percent meeting state standards in 2006 to 83.9 percent in 2011).

D95 has also seen improvement in the test scores of its students with disabilities. In 2006, just 38.7 percent of students with disabilities met state standards in reading and 49.3 percent met them in math.

In 2011, 64.7 percent of students with disabilities met state standards in reading and 67.1 percent in math.