Evanston Township High School juniors scored substantial gains on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), with most meeting requirements in both reading and math; only two subgroups – students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students – did not meet proficiency targets in reading.

High school juniors in Illinois take the PSAE to determine whether their school district is meeting standards under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. NCLB requires that each district make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in every subgroup (white, black, Hispanic, limited English proficiency, disabled, and economically disadvantaged) with the ultimate goal of 100 percent of students meeting state standards by 2013-14.

“Our focus is on students gains,” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said at a press conference on Sept. 5. “Each year is a different junior class. When you’re working on this AYP and this NCLB stuff, that’s a moving target … but when we see students making these kinds of gains, we think they are pretty important.”

This year, 62.5 percent of students in each subgroup were required to meet or exceed standards for reading and math. Schools can also meet requirements by reducing the percentage of students not making standards in each subgroup by 10 percent – known as meeting requirements via Safe Harbor.

Districts are also required to meet standards for participation rates (percentage of students taking the test) and graduation rates. ETHS has met those requirements for all subgroups since 2003, when NCLB took effect.

For the first time since students began taking the PSAE, every subgroup at ETHS made AYP in math, and for the first time, black students made AYP in reading, with more than a 10 percentage-point improvement over 2007 results. Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students, while not reaching the required 62.5 proficiency rate, did show double-digit increases in math proficiency over the results of students taking the exam in 2007.

Dr. Witherspoon credited several influences with the improvement in student test performance.

“Our students’ substantial improvement … is closely tied to all the extra assistance our students are receiving from teachers,” he told the RoundTable in an e-mail.

Dr. Witherspoon also cited the System of Supports initiative, which requires morning support (called “A.M. Support”) for students in danger of failing and provides study centers in every core subject, as important in improving student achievement.

“We have reorganized our AVID, STAE and Project Excel programs so that the services provided to students in all three programs are integrated, targeting math and reading,” he added.

Another helpful effort, Dr. Witherspoon said, was a comprehensive test-preparation program for both math and reading. The program was “supplementary,” he said, and did not “supplant any of their classes.”

Dr. Judith Levinson, director of research, evaluation and assessment at ETHS, said recent changes to the weighting of questions on the PSAE did not influence the gains realized by students. The PSAE is constructed from two different tests, she said: the ACT and another test called WorkKeys, a “job-skills assessment system that measures real-world skills.” In past years, even though the number of questions used from the ACT was not the same as the number of questions used from WorkKeys, the test results were combined with a 50/50 weighting. “Due to complaints in the past,” said Dr. Levinson, “the weighting was changed to value each question on the test equally.”

Dr. Levinson also told the RoundTable, “The state PSAE scores went down in reading and up slightly in math (54.1 to 53.3 in reading and 52.7 to 53.0 in math). So we are confident that our increases are real and significant.”

Despite the progress made by students, the District is still subject to sanctions under NCLB because not all subgroups met AYP. However, Dr. Witherspoon said that “even before the results were in,” administrators had met with state officials and that the latter “were very, very pleased with our restructuring plan. They said they would like us to speak about our plan at an NCLB conference. The state is really interested if you have a bonafide restructuring plan and if you are seeing some results. We are pleased that that is happening right now.”

Percent Meeting and Exceeding Standards on 2007 and 2008 ISATs

                                     Reading         Math

2007   2008 2007 2008
White  90.4  90.4  90.7  91.6
Black  36.0  46.2  35.6  50.7
Hispanic  35.2  38.2  35.8  47.3

Students w/Disabilities

 38.8  37.9  28.4  34.5

Econ Disadvantaged

 36.8  36.5  31.7  43.4