Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

At the District 202 School Board’s June 22 meeting, the School Improvement Team (SIT) presented recommendations about developing a working definition of rigor, increasing access to Advanced Placement (AP) and other advanced-level classes, and increasing supports for freshmen and their parents

SIT is a steering committee composed of District 202 administrators, faculty, students, parents, School Board members and community members. According to the organization’s website, SIT members “advocate for and facilitate the ETHS school improvement process and … help maintain accountability towards meeting District goals.”

Co-chairs Tyrone Nelson (faculty representative) and Diane Davis (parent representative) presented the recommendations to the Board.

Definition of Rigor

The subject of rigor has been a challenging one for the District and has been a topic of discussion in a number of different situations over some time.

“It was really difficult to come up with one definition of rigor,” said Mr. Nelson. “It’s ongoing work.”

“People do not understand what rigor is and what rigor means,” commented Board member Deborah Graham, a member of the subcommittee of SIT that discussed the topic, which included faculty from the English and Math departments. “These were teaching professionals all of whom had different notions of what represents rigor,” she said. “The school’s policy is encouraging something that nobody actually understands what it is and, until we get that clarified, I don’t think we’re going to have much of a consensus. …”

The proposal approved by SIT is to “develop a clear, consistent operational/working definition of rigor to be used at ETHS.”

Advanced Level Classes

SIT’s recommendations about AP/advanced-level classes include broadening departmental information days to reach more students, more teacher involvement in encouraging students to move into advanced-level courses and more communication with parents.

“Sometimes there’s the feeling that some people know about their options and others might not have had enough information to make these decisions,” said Ms. Davis.

In addition, SIT recommended that there be a “standard process for AP course selection that would include a more open dialogue between the teacher and student, as opposed to a formal letter of recommendation.” In the past, the primary way that students were permitted to take an AP class was as a result of a teacher’s recommendation.

“I want to emphasize” that there be a “standard” process, said Ms. Davis, “because one of the issues . . . is that some students feel it’s different in each department and they have trouble navigating that system.”

“I think this recommendation has huge promise here at ETHS,” remarked Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “It really corresponds to what we are trying to do here, to have higher expectations for more students, to open gateways and then support students in taking more advanced and more challenging courses.”

Dr. Witherspoon cited research by the College Board (which oversees the Advanced Placement course development and testing process) which found that even students who do not do well enough on AP tests to qualify for college credit, still do better in college because they have been exposed to college-level work in high school.

Supports for Freshmen and Their Parents

There were several recommendations specifically targeted towards supporting freshmen and their parents.

SIT recommended that ETHS develop an orientation program for parents of incoming freshmen that would include student-led school tours, an overview of at-home study skills, computer access to ETHS information, health services, discipline and other aspects of the District’s operations.

In addition, SIT recommended that a student-to-student mentoring program be established.

“Great minds think alike,” said Ms. Davis as she presented this recommendation while acknowledging that SIT had not been aware of the Student Ambassador program now being developed for implementation next fall which is intended to provide a similar service.

Finally, SIT members recommended the creation of a “freshman-only day” designed to allow incoming ninth-grade students “an opportunity to orient to the building and their classes in a less-intimidating environment prior to the start of the school year for all students.”

Other Recommendations

SIT also recommended that the District work with other school districts in the Minority Student Achievement Network to “identify similar high schools that have improved student achievement in order to find out what these schools have done and identify ‘promising practices’ to be tried at ETHS.”

Also, several suggestions were made to improve general communication using technology resources and other methods of electronic communications.

“Lots of these recommendations will come to fruition,” said Dr. Witherspoon. He explained that the suggestions would be incorporated into a review of the District’s goals and strategies and said, “We will certainly be reporting back to (the Board) as that work gets underway.”