Though a performance gap between white and minority students still figures prominently into the results, educators in District 91 are pleased to see that students at each of the five schools met state benchmarks for academic performance on the latest round of high stakes exams.

In doing so, students earned their schools the distinction of having made Adequate Yearly Progress under a federal education policy that ratchets up the expectations each year. Last year, both the Forest Park Middle School and Grant-White Elementary School failed to make AYP.

For the middle school, the turnaround marks the first time in years that students in every subject and every demographic met those benchmarks measured by the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

“Overall, I’m very proud of the job the students and the teachers have done here to address our needs,” Principal Karen Bukowski said.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo said the test results are certainly a positive, but they don’t tell the whole story. More important than any single exam, he said, are the trends and patterns that can be gleaned from test scores and used to shape a school’s curriculum.

“Take it for what it is. It’s a snapshot for comparing this district to other districts,” Cavallo said. “That’s all it really is.”

Across the district, 70.4 percent of students in grades three through eight are reading at grade level, according to the scores released Oct. 31 by the State Board of Education. In math, 74 percent of the students are meeting benchmarks set by the ISAT.

These marks put students well above minimum standards for meeting AYP-not only this year, but also in 2008. However, Dist. 91 is still being outperformed by schools across the state. Overall, 73 percent of students here are proficient in critical subject areas compared to almost 79 percent statewide.

To meet AYP benchmarks in 2007, at least 55 percent of students tested must demonstrate grade-level proficiency. That minimum standard will increase to 62.5 percent next year and will continue to climb until 2014.

“By 2014 we have to have 100 percent [of students performing at grade level],” Cavallo said. “I don’t believe anybody believes that’s going to happen.”

More immediately, Bukowski already sees problems with asking special education students to meet those tougher performance standards in April when pupils sit down for the 2008 exams. Under the No Child Left Behind act, special education classes aren’t required to see the same percentage of kids perform at grade level as long as the number of students hitting those marks increases by 10 percent from year to year. These so-called Safe Harbor Targets are what allowed special education students at the middle school to meet AYP standards this year.

“It’s nice to make it for a year, but realistically we know the target goes up,” Bukowski said.

As scores across the district generally ticked up, minority students still were outpaced by white students. In 2006, 53.5 percent of black students in Forest Park made AYP in reading. This year, nearly 59 percent met those standards. A slight improvement was made in math scores for black pupils, but overall the gains did not match those of their white counterparts.

More than 86 percent of white students are reading at grade level, a roughly 4 percent increase over last year. In math, more than 90 percent of whites are meeting state standards, which is an increase of almost 7 percent over 2006.

“There is an achievement gap,” Cavallo said. “Our African-American students aren’t scoring the same way. It is something we have to address.”

At the school board’s next meeting on Nov. 8, Cavallo said he will outline new strategies to close those performance gaps.

Forty-eight percent of the students in Dist. 91 are black and 25 percent are white. Hispanic kids make up roughly 12 percent of the population.

“I think we’re kind of all on the same page, that every child in District 91 can learn and improve,” school board Vice President Sean Blaylock said. “There are no ifs, ands or buts in that statement.”