During the District 91 board of education’s first public meeting since the release of the 2006 report card data, school officials spent little time reviewing the test scores, focusing instead on what they described as invalid and unfair comparisons to state averages.

Superintendent Randolph Tinder said he’s not making excuses for the district, but demographics in his classrooms deviate far enough from the average classroom in Illinois to render such comparisons unhelpful, he said.

“Of course it’s not accurate, because our district is not average,” Tinder said in his remarks to the board.

According to the report card information released by the state Board of Education earlier this month, Forest Park has more than double the number of black students in its K-8 classrooms than other districts in the state. The rest of the state is also averaging a student body that is some 55 percent white, while Forest Park’s schools are 27 percent white.

District 91 also has smaller class sizes, more white teachers, more teachers with a master’s degree and more teachers meeting federal standards to be considered “highly qualified.”

“Does our school district look like an average school district by those measures?” Tinder said. “Certainly not.”

The board was joined by all five district principals for its March 15 discussion of the school report cards. Those administrators offered few comments and were not asked to address results within their respective schools.

In addition to test scores earned on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, the reports include financial aggregates, salary information and other data used to measure a school’s overall quality.

Students at Betsy Ross Elementary School turned in the highest marks for grade-level proficiency with 78 percent meeting or exceeding state standards. Grant-White Elementary School has the fewest students performing at grade-level, 53.5 percent, according to the ISAT scores.

Across the district, black students were noticeably outperformed by white students.

Sean Blaylock, the board’s only black member, said the focus needs to be on helping students improve, regardless of the performance category they fall into. For the most part, Blaylock said, students in Forest Park made gains over their 2005 scores, which is promising.

“You’re going to have different levels [of progress], but that progress needs to be there,” Blaylock said.

Rather than compare black students in Forest Park to white students in Forest Park, Tinder said it’s more appropriate to compare black students here to black students across the state. Arguably, doing so paints a more flattering picture of those students’ performance.

In seventh-grade math, almost 69 percent of Forest Park’s black students are meeting or exceeding state standards, while roughly 52 percent of black seventh-graders in the state are hitting those marks.

Black fourth-graders, across the tested subject areas of reading, math and science, are doing better here than in the rest of Illinois when comparing black test scores.

However, fifth-grade reading and math scores for black students are roughly even, if not slightly behind, state averages for black students. In the sixth-grade the same holds true.

“It’s pretty tough when our teachers and our students continually read about how poorly our kids do and what a terrible school district this is,” Tinder said.

Board member Glenn Garlisch acknowledged the ISAT scores weren’t as high as the district had hoped, but said he is proud of the work being done by teachers and administrators.

“I know we can do a better job,” Garlisch said.

Students in District 91 and across the state finished taking the 2007 ISAT exam last week. Those scores are expected to be released within a few months, however, the 2006 scores were five months late in coming. Educators across the state complained that such tardy results gives teachers no time to make adjustments for the next round of exams.