At a March 14 forum sponsored by the Evanston Chapter of the NAACP, candidates for the District 65 School Board shared their views on what they would do to ensure students are prepared for high school and what price they would pay for diversity in the District’s schools. Five candidates are vying for four open positions on the Board in the April 7 elections. The questions and candidates’ answers are quoted below.
Question: Historically the District 202 School Board has blamed District 65 for not preparing the students adequately for the academic rigors of ETHS. What would you do to help in the culture of blame and ensure that all students entering ETHS are well-prepared and perform well academically in their freshman year?
Chris Hawker: “I think initially one of the things we have to look at in District 65 is what are we using to measure achievement, what are we calling achievement, how do we know what achievement looks like. For the most part it’s ISAT scores, and the Illinois ISAT is known throughout the nation as being one of the lowest, as having one of the lowest standards, it’s among the lowest states in the nation. So I think we need to look at that. I think the score on the ISATs have shown some growth; but I think we need to look at other means of determining what achievement is. In short, I think we have to raise the bar. I think just by raising the bar, by expecting more, you get more. … I don’t think it’s so much about what’s actually being done in the classroom; I think it’s about what is being expected.
“I think we need to look at multiple sources of data, we have to look at EXPLORE tests – which are not being used in terms of determining achievement in District 65 students. I also think we have to look at specific data of students as they complete their first year at the high school and look back and see the trends that they might have been experiencing in their K-8 years.”
Andrew Pigozzi: “First of all, I’m not into the blame game. I think it is somewhat of a cop-out. I think ultimately District 65 could say, ‘The parents aren’t providing us with good kids, there’s something wrong with the population in Evanston that we’re not able to educate children,’ and that’s a ridiculous argument. This is the community we have, these are the children that we have, and it’s our job to educate them in the best way that we possibly can with the resources that we have. I think by looking to blame, or point fingers. I think it misses the point. It’s a waste of effort and it’s a waste of everybody’s time.”
Jerome Summers: “Over the last five or six years, black kids, low-income kids, special education kids, Latino kids, all scores have jumped 50, 60, 70 percent or more on the ISAT. Now for all that test is and it isn’t, it’s still the standard, it is the law; and our scores have gone up. Furthermore, the kids in high school are a lagging indicator of where the District was before.
“That said, we first of all need to tighten up our early childhood education. If you get it out front, then it doesn’t stick out behind. If we also have a super-beefed- up K-2 or K-3 so kids never, ever fail, so that 90, 95 percent of all kids can meet these standards by the time they’re in third grade, because that’s when they start testing, and in fourth grade they start building prisons based on how many kids can’t read and that’s horrifying to me. That’s why that super K-2 is imperative.
“Also we can create our own standards. We’re Evanston, Illinois. … We can do that. We have everything here. … There’s no good reason for our kids not to thrive here. Also, we should better align our tests.”
Tracy Quattrocki: “I do agree that the blame game is destructive, that we need more collaboration and that raising standards and aligning the tests would help. But I also think we need to look to our own District, and I think there are some concrete steps we could take in District 65 to help out with this problem.
“I think we need to examine our middle schools and see whether they’re truly preparing our students for the rigors of the high school. I think we could learn a lot from District 202 in terms of support for some of our struggling students. SOS [System of Supports], AVID [Achievement Via Individual Determination], and STAE [Steps Toward Educational Excellence] are all models that are in place, and I think the middle schools need to look at those programs and try to adopt some of those similar systems of support. I also think writing is something kids really need to develop before they go into the high school. I believe we have a great writing curriculum in District 65, but I don’t think it’s been implemented uniformly in the middle schools. I believe differentiation is a powerful tool; I think it’s been used more effectively in the elementary schools than the middle schools. We need to look at more professional development in the middle schools to see that this is being done.”
Kim Weaver: “One of the things I would do to try to alleviate this blame game is I think someone from District 65 should attend District 202 Board meetings. But it would be nice if it went the other way. I think we need to become a little more collaborative.
“Having said that, I couldn’t agree more with two people here. We can change our standards; and since we’re testing to the EXPLORE test, I’d like to see District 65 look at that as potentially a new standard because then we could be teaching to the EXPLORE test instead of exclusively to the ISAT test.
“I’m running on the focus to the transition from District 65 to 202 because I have a daughter who is in the ninth grade right now. And I would like to see a lot more rigorous curriculum in our middle schools. I think some of the ways we can do that is to provide more diversity in the curriculum. I think we could have more authentic learning experiences for our students. It’s been proven that peer training actually helps students on both sides of that. I’m a big supporter of that. I think we should look at the curriculum we’re teaching, because every single student is not interested in every piece that we’re teaching, so if we brought in [CHECK] I think that would be effective.”
Question: What price are you willing to pay for diversity in District 65 schools?
Ms. Quattrocki: “I think some children have been paying too high a price for diversity, and I think Mr. Summers addressed this early on with the children of the Fifth Ward having been bused to seven different schools over the years in order to integrate our schools. I think we need to have this go both ways. Neighborhood schools are strong and important for so many different reasons, and I think the children in the Fifth Ward should have a neighborhood school – not necessarily a new school – but we should look at the lines and come up with a creative way to get those kids to go to school together.”
Mr. Summers: “Actually, I do think they should build a school in the Fifth Ward or something. …The District has spent $3 million in the last year to expand the classrooms and a library at Dewey and now they’re going to need another room. Now Kingsley needs more room. Willard needs more room. Dewey needs more room. And when they [the Finance Committee] started piecing together all these things, it came to $5, 6 or 7 million. I thought, ‘What if you extrapolated that over the whole District, then you could afford a new school.’
“We could have a green demonstration school. There’s different ways to do it. Not only that – Evanston is desegregated, but we wear our diversity on our sleeves like a badge of honor. It should be integrated, not just desegregated.”
Mr. Pigozzi: “I think the question you have to ask yourself is ‘What’s diversity?’ Is it economic diversity? Is it racial diversity? I assume we’re talking about racial diversity. My view is that diversity as a conscious thought has to take a back seat to achievement. I think achievement is more important than coming up with the right balance of students to obtain some sort of diversity.
Achievement and student success, quite frankly, just outweighs that. Diversity is a nice attribute that we all value in Evanston, and I have a utopian vision that we should all be color-blind, but I’m not sure that’s correct either. I think there are cultural nuances that exist that should be respected and embraced and celebrated.
“So it’s a tough issue. It’s really hard to answer the question on what I would do. Is it a dollar amount we would spend? I don’t know. I know Mr. Summers has been a strong champion of opening a Fifth Ward School, and I think that I would agree with him that would solve a lot of problems, but building a school is one set of costs, operating the school is a whole other set of costs. So it’s a difficult problem in that respect. But I think as an Evanstonian, as a Board member, I certainly celebrate diversity. I moved here for a reason, I grew up here and I think it’s something to be celebrated.”
Mr. Hawker: “I really didn’t see this question becoming a referendum on a Fifth Ward school. I think they need a school. I don’t know how. Andy says it’s one thing to build a school. It’s another to pay for it over the years. Honestly, I don’t have the answer to that one. Tracy said maybe there’s a creative way. I hope there’s a very creative way because I think they need a school. It’s important for kids to go to school in their neighborhood, or at least have the option to do that if they want to.
“That being said, I think when we talk about student achievement many things can be measured in terms of numbers and certain percentages of students meeting standards or not meeting standards. But I also think there [are] some intangibles. There are things that maybe can’t quite be measured quite so quantitatively and one of those things is diversity in our town, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, whatever community you want to look at. And I know that having that experience is a powerful educational tool. It’s a powerful life-shaping experience for our children. … I would like to see that [diversity] continue with our schools. Should we be forcing kids to leave their neighborhood, should we be forcing kids to move from one place to another for the sole purpose of achieving diversity? No, I don’t think so. But I think we need to look at it as an important educational experience in and of itself.”
Ms. Weaver: “I don’t believe diversity should ever be more important than educating our students. And when I talk about educating our students, I’m looking at educating the whole child. I’d like to see us focus not just on academics but social, emotional … I think when we focus on that and we start to reach out to families – which we all agreed it’s important to get families involved – then we reach even further to our communities … I don’t think we should put diversity as the first goal. The first goal is to educate children. And if we can give them a diverse school environment, that’s fantastic. I’ve never been a big fan of labels and so I think if we could stop using labels, maybe we start including everybody.”
Measuring Preparedness for High School
School District 202 gives the EXPLORE test to District 65 eighth-graders each year as one of a number of tests and methods used to assess incoming freshmen. EXPLORE is part of the ACT family of tests, and it is designed to be given to eighth- or ninth-graders.
District 65 eighth-graders have shown virtually no progress on the EXPLORE test. The composite scores by subgroup for the last seven years are as follows:
·African-Americans: 14.1, 13.3, 13.6, 14.0, 14.2, 14.1, 14.2
·Latino: 14.5,14.7, 14.9, 14.2, 14.9, 14.8, 14.4
·White: 19.5, 19.5, 19.4, 19.3, 19.4, 19.5, 19.4
By contrast, District 65 eighth-graders have made substantial gains on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) during the same period, with the highest gains being made by minority students. For example, 42% of District 65 eighth-graders met or exceeded standards on the 2002 ISATs; the percentage jumped to 75% on the 2008 ISATs. The ISATs are the state’s mandated assessment for elementary grade levels.
District 65 officials have said they do not believe the EXPLORE test is a reliable measurement of whether a student is meeting state standards. District 202 officials, however, have said that EXPLORE is closely aligned with state standards and point out that EXPLORE is part of the ACT family of tests, and that the ACT test is given as part of the PSAEs, which is the state’s mandated assessment for eleventh-graders. The State Board of Education has recently launched a program under which it encourages school districts to administer the EXPLORE test.
A recent study prepared by researchers with the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago concluded that the ISATs set low academic standards for eighth-graders. “”Students, their parents and their schools are being told that they meet state standards for eighth-grade achievement; yet they have virtually no chance of reaching a score of 20 on the ACT, which we note is an admittedly low bar,”” says that report. The benchmark for college readiness on the ACT is 21.25. See “”New Report Finds ISATs Are ‘Misaligned’ With ACTs”” in the Nov. 12, 2008 issue of the RoundTable.
An earlier report, “”The Proficiency Illusion,”” concluded that changes made to the ISATs in 2006 make it easier to meet standards on that test. See “”Study Questions ISAT Gains”” in the Oct. 17, 2007 issue of the RoundTable.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois has joined the American Diploma Project and is in the process of revising Illinois standards “”to ensure that K-12 and post-secondary educators share a common understanding of what all students should know and be able to do in order to be successful in both post-secondary education and careers.””