Oswego School District 308 test results show student achievement gaps

A look at standardized test scores taken by Oswego School District 308 students show double-digit achievement gaps between several groups of students beginning in the second grade and continuing to high school.

Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist presented data gleaned from the 2019 Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) test for grades 3-8 and the SAT for high school students, and the 2021 FastBridge test to the Board of Education during a meeting Nov. 15.

2019 was the last year that all students were physically in school to take the IAR and SAT exams due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dahlquist explained to the board.

Data presented was separated by female/male, and Black/White/Hispanic student groups, though the Illinois State Board of Education’s Report Card breaks data down into additional groups.

According to the data, double-digit achievement gaps exist between female and male students and White/Black/Hispanic students in aggregate results from the IAR reading exam, while the gap narrows between female and male students in aggregate mathematics results.

In the IAR mathematics exam, double-digit gaps remain between White and Black students and White and Hispanic students. The achievement gap between White and Hispanic students in OSD 308 totaled 22 points, with Hispanic students scoring lower - exceeding the state average by one point.

The FastBridge exam, a new test for the district taken in September 2021 by students in grades 2-8, showed that at least 50% of students in each grade were on target and at low risk for reading scores, though disparities exist again between female and male students, and White/Black/Hispanic students, where male students and Black/Hispanic students performed lower - in certain situations by more than 20 percentage points.

In the mathematics portion of the FastBridge exam, the gap flips between female and male students, showing scores at least six percentage points higher than female students at all grade levels. Black and Hispanic students again showed lower performance, sometimes at a difference of more than 30%.

Student scores on the Spring 2021 SAT, taken by high school students, showed single-digit achievement gaps between female and male students in both reading and mathematics, though female students’ scores in mathematics came lower in the gap than male students. Double-digit gaps remain between White, Black, and Hispanic students in both reading and mathematics.

Dahlquist also addressed possible causes behind the achievement gaps and what steps the district is taking to close the gaps.

Female and male students tend to approach learning differently, Dahlquist said. In general, female students prefer to learn in an auditory fashion, engage in group work and social interaction to discuss learning, and participate in open-ended assignments that promote creativity. Male students prefer “clearly defined” outcomes with specific correct or incorrect answers, as well as tactile or visual learning styles as well as the ability to compete against themselves or others.

Differences in student achievement can also be affected by race, Dahlquist told the board.

“There are some preferences and learning styles that are overlooked in curriculum and materials,” she said.

Whether a student can “see themselves” in the books they are reading in school, or whether they feel excluded in the classroom or school can affect achievement, Dahlquist said.

Student achievement can also be affected by whether or not they see themselves in their school’s staff or the expectations they are held to, she said.

The district is taking steps to close the gaps, Dahlquist told the board

In the district’s literacy framework, administrators plan to “create choice” for students during independent reading time allowing for students to choose from multiple genres of literature.

The framework also calls for student participation in small group instruction, learning from texts appropriate for their instructional level. Coaches and professional development would continue at schools to support teachers, as well as the hiring of an additional interventionist at each of the district’s elementary schools.