At the District 202 School Board’s March 13 meeting, administrators circulated a memo to the Board that provided an update on their efforts to define “college readiness” in terms of a post-secondary outcome that is short of college graduation, but which they say is predictive of graduating from college. Administrators concluded that “consecutive enrollment for five or more semesters at any tier of college or university to be the optimal predictor of college graduation.”
Once the outcome is agreed upon with School District 65, Evanston Township High School administrators say they plan to identify multiple characteristics of ETHS graduates who met that outcome, and those characteristics will constitute the benchmark for college readiness at ETHS.
The multiple characteristics might include earning a certain ACT or SAT score, taking particular courses at ETHS and having success in those courses, earning certain grades or a grade point average at ETHS, and taking AP courses at ETHS and having success in those courses. Different weights might be given to different measures, and a higher score on one measure may make up for a lower score on another.
The multiple characteristics will set the Board’s expectations for students. They will also set the Board’s expectations for administrators to prepare students so they have the opportunity to enroll in and to succeed in college – if that is the path they want to take.
Defining College Graduation
There are several factors that are significant in ETHS administrators’ decision to align college readiness to college graduation.
First, as proposed, the ultimate goal is college graduation, without regard to whether a student is prepared to do C level work, or B level work, or A level work.
Second, ETHS administrators define “college graduation” as receiving a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college within six years of high school graduation, and their definition also includes receiving a “certificate” or an “associate degree” from a community college within six years of high school graduation.
The definition is thus significantly broader than obtaining a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college.
Selecting an Outcome Short of Graduation
While under the proposed model the ultimate goal is “college graduation,” administrators propose to use an earlier post-secondary outcome that is predictive of college graduation, and to use that earlier post-secondary outcome as the starting point in identifying student characteristics that will constitute the benchmark for college readiness. Last year, they considered using persistence to a third semester in college or persistence to a fifth semester in college as potential outcomes.
To identify an earlier post-secondary outcome that is predictive of college graduation, ETHS administrators determined the college graduation rates of ETHS students who graduated from ETHS in 2008, 2009, and 2010. They also determined the college graduation rates of this group of students who were continuously enrolled in three, four, five, or more semesters of college, using data available from the National Student Clearinghouse.
ETHS made its analysis separately for ETHS students who enrolled in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 colleges. (See sidebar for description of Tiers.) The data shows that graduation rates differ significantly depending on the number of semesters enrolled and the tier of school a student enrolled in:
• At day one: 88% of students who enrolled in a Tier 1 school went on to graduate, compared to 58% who enrolled in a Tier 2 school, and only 37% who enrolled in a Tier 3 school.
• At three semesters: 92% of the students who were continuously enrolled for three semesters or more in a Tier 1 school went on to graduate, compared to 67% of the students who enrolled in a Tier 2 school, and 63% who enrolled in a Tier 3 school.
• At five semesters: 94% of the students who were continuously enrolled for five semesters in a Tier 1 school went on to graduate, compared to 82% in a Tier 2 school, and 80% in a Tier 3 school.
Based on this data, ETHS concluded, “Consecutive enrollment for five or more semesters at any tier of college or university to be the optimal predictor of college graduation.”
In his memo, Assistant Superintendent Pete Bavis says ETHS shared this updated information with District 65 administrators and once District 65 administrators agree with the proposed outcome, ETHS will identify the multiple characteristics of ETHS graduates who met that outcome, and those characteristics will be the benchmark for college readiness at ETHS.
Continuous Enrollment in Terms of Academic Success
The data available through the National Student Clearinghouse does not provide information on the courses a student has taken in college or on a student’s grades earned in college, but it provides data showing college enrollment and graduation.
A student, however, may generally continue from one semester in college to the next if he or she has an overall college grade point average of 2.0, or by having less than a 2.0 grade point average if he or she qualifies for academic probation. For example, this is the case at DePaul University, Loyola University of Chicago, Oakton Community College, Northeastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, Southern Illinois, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign (with some variations), and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
ETHS is thus proposing to link its “multiple measures” to a GPA of 2.0 or less, which is the borderline between passing and failing in college. One recent study found that 77% of the grades given in four-year colleges are As and Bs. An updated study found that, by 2013, the average college student had a GPA of 3.15. “Where A is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading 1940-2009” (2012) by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy; and “GradeInflation.com” (Updated, March 2016).
If the chosen outcome were continuous enrollment for five semesters and having a GPA of 2.5, or 2.75, or 3.0, the measures for college readiness would likely be higher.
Another factor, discussed above, is that the proposed outcome is not enrollment for five semesters in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 four-year college, but enrollment for five semesters in any tier of college, including a Tier 3 open-enrollment two-year community college – where after five semesters students have an 80% chance of obtaining a certificate or associates degree within six years of graduating from high school.
In identifying the characteristics of students who meet this criteria, ETHS administrators will not be identifying the characteristics of the “average” student who meets the criteria. Rather, they will likely be identifying the characteristics of students who fall at the lower edges of the spectrum.
By using a model that does not take into account college grades and that takes into account all tiers of colleges, including open-enrollment and community colleges, ETHS appears to be setting lower expectations than if it used a model linked to the skills needed to do B level work at a Tier 2 four-year college, or even linked to the skills needed to do C level work at a Tier 2 four-year college.
The RoundTable asked Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and Assistant Superintendent Pete BAvis why they are defining “college graduation” to include obtaining a certificate or an associate’s degree from a two-year college, rather than obtaining a bachelor’s degree from at least a Tier 2 college.
Dr. Bavis replied, “We include the associate’s degree and certifications because they represent a viable college pathway for some students.”
When asked if the multiple measures that predict college graduation would be higher if ETHS defined “college graduation” as obtaining a bachelor’s degree from a Tier 2 or Tier 3 college, Dr. Bavis replied:
“We are looking at enrollment in five contiguous semesters as our indicator. Only students that persist are included in this outcome. Students who persist in a Tier 3 college for five semesters have an 80 percent chance of graduating. It is important to note that we are not looking at admissions to Tier 3 colleges as an indicator of college graduation. That said, if we limited our predictor to Tier 1 then we would only need to measure admission. This has to do with selectivity and supports. We are working with Dr. Figlio to analyze the data.”
In response to a question whether ETHS planned to identify a separate set of multiple measures that predict graduation from a Tier 3 college, a Tier 2 college and a Tier 1 college, Dr. Bavis said, “We will certainly look at this to see if there is great variation in the multiple measures across tiers. We will go where the data take us. That said, I am confident that there will be some variation across tiers, but it is premature to speak to the variation at this point.”
One important question is: Should ETHS be preparing all students so they have the academic skills to enroll in and succeed in at least a Tier 2 college – if that is what they would like to do after high school? Should all students be prepared so they have that opportunity? Or is it acceptable to set lower expectations for students and for administrators?
So far the School Board has not discussed this issue.
In a series of editorials, the RoundTable has urged the District 202 School Board to adopt higher expectations for our students.