By Bob Skolnik
Both Riverside-Brookfield High School and Lyons Township High School were rated as commendable in the 2019 School Report Card issued by the Illinois State Board of Education, but large achievement gaps among different student groups exist at both schools.
The commendable rating means that neither RBHS nor LTHS were ranked in the top 10 percent of public high schools in Illinois as measured by a variety of factors, most prominently student growth and student achievement as measured by performance on the SAT exam, which is given to all public high school juniors in Illinois. About 75 percent of all public schools in Illinois were rated "commendable."
The average SAT score for RBHS juniors in 2019 was 537.6 in English Language Arts (ELA) and 546 in math, which exceeded the state averages of 497.5 in ELA and 497 in math. At LTHS the average SAT scores were 557.1 in ELA and 574.3 in math.
The average RBHS score in math rose by nearly 10 points compared to 2018 while the average ELA score at RBHS dropped by less than one point. At LTHS, the average score in ELA dropped by about five points from 2018, while the average math score increased by two points.
The ISBE establishes four categories for grouping student performance based on SAT scores: exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, approaching expectations, and partially meeting expectations.
The state establishes so called "cut scores" for each category. A SAT score of 640 or above in ELA and 670 or above in math is considered exceeding expectations, while 540 or above is the cut for meeting expectations in both ELA and math. A score of at least 430 in ELA is needed to approach expectations, while 450 is the cut score to approach expectations in math.
Fifty-four percent of RBHS juniors in 2019 met or exceeded expectations in ELA and the same percentage did so in math. At LTHS, 60 percent of juniors were rated as proficient in ELA and 64 percent in math.
Scott Eggerding, the director of curriculum and instruction at LTHS said the state's cut scores are higher than what the SAT itself considers proficiency.
In science, 62 percent of RBHS juniors were rated as proficient compared to 58 percent of LTHS juniors.
The test results also indicate a vast achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic and demographic groups at both RBHS and LTHS, as well as throughout the state.
At both schools, white students scored much higher on the SAT than did their Hispanic and black classmates.
At RBHS, 65 percent of white students met or exceeded expectations in ELA compared to 41 percent of Hispanic students and just 23 percent of black students. In addition, 46 percent of black students at RBHS scored below 430 on the reading and writing portion of the SAT, placing them in the lowest category of "partially meeting" expectations, compared to just 7 percent of white students and 15 percent of Hispanic students.
The numbers were similar in math, with 64 percent of white students at RBHS meeting or exceeding expectations compared to 42 percent of Hispanic students and 27 percent of black students. Fifty percent of black students and 23 percent of Hispanic students scored in the lowest category in math at RBHS, compared to just 9 percent of white students.
"Any achievement gap is concerning to me," said RBHS Principal Hector Freytas, who is in his first year at RBHS. "Ideally, all of our students would be achieving at high levels so it's concerning to me. Historically there has been a gap between whites, blacks, and Latino, not only at our school but at schools throughout the country. It's an issue that we need to solve."
Freytas said many factors contribute to the achievement gap, including poverty, early access to education and language barriers. But, he said, the achievement gap must be confronted.
"I'm not happy with it and I don't that there is any principal in the world that would say that's OK," Freytas said. "But it's real, it needs to be addressed and I am hoping that we have the right team in place here at RB to address it under my leadership."
At LTHS, the disparities were even wider, with 69 percent of white students meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA compared to 32 percent of Hispanic students and just 13 percent of black students.
In math 73 percent of white LTHS students met or exceeded expectations while only 31 percent of Hispanic students and 23 percent of black students did so. In math, 57 percent of black juniors at LTHS scored in the lowest category, below 450 on the SAT.
According to the school report card, no black student at LTHS in 2019 scored in the exceeding expectations category in either ELA or math.
Black students make up only 4 percent of the student population at LTHS and 5 percent at RBHS. Those small numbers make it hard to read too much into the test results, Eggerding said.
"There's always areas that we can look to improve," Eggerding said. "The challenge with our data for black students is that we have a relatively small percentage of students who are in that [category] so it fluctuates from year to year."
A few years ago, LTHS established an equity and achievement program designed to boost the number of minority students taking honors and Advanced Placement classes.
Low-income students at both schools also had lower scores than their wealthier counterparts.
At RBHS, only 29 percent of low-income students met or exceeded expectations in ELA compared to 57 percent of students who are not low-income. In math, only 26 percent of low-income RBHS students met or exceeded expectations compared to 57 percent of their wealthier classmates. At LTHS the gaps were similar.
At both RBHS and LTHS, 12 percent of students are classified as low-income.