ETHS administrators presented the results of standardized test scores to the District 202 School Board on Sept. 14, sharing both good news and bad in these reports of student achievement.

The school’s senior class had a record-high composite score of 23.5 on the ACT college-entrance exam, outperforming their peers at the state and national levels. In addition, ETHS scores on the 2009 state-required Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), which takes a snapshot of the junior class, improved for most student subgroups. Although more students were enrolled in advanced placement (AP) classes this year, fewer students received a 4 or 5 on AP exams.

There was an upward trend in most of the scores in student subgroups in each of four academic areas – English, reading, mathematics and science – with a substantial increase in the percentage of Hispanic students meeting standards on the PSAE, but

a sharp drop-off in the percentage of black students meeting standards on the PSAE. The progress was not sufficient for the school to meet the mandates for adequate yearly progress (AYP) under, the No Child Left Behind Act.

The PSAE is the state determiner of performance under the No Child Left Behind Act. This year NCLB mandated that 70 percent of students in all 24 subgroups meet state standards in order to make adequate yearly progress (APY) or at least meet a lesser target called a “safe harbor.” At ETHS, 19 of the subgroups met AYP or safe harbor standards.

Nonetheless, Dr. Judith Levinson, director of research and evaluation for the District, said she believes the high school demonstrably “does a good job educating students from the time they enter our doors through senior year.” She said data that tracked student progress from eighth to eleventh grade indicates that students in all subgroups are showing academic gains as they go through high school.

PSAE Scores

Oscar Hawthorne, assistant superintendent and principal at ETHS, said the data was presented to the Board “to give a clear picture of the work that lies ahead of us” and to offer “the proper lens to observe student achievement. … I have great news to share about student achievement and the power of good instruction.”

On an overall basis, ETHS juniors did slightly worse on the 2009 Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAEs) than they did in the prior year. According to preliminary results reported at the School Board’s meeting on Sept. 14, 69.5% of the students met standards in reading, compared to 69.9% last year; and 69.3% met standards in math, compared to 73.1% last year.

The PSAE, said Mr. Hawthorne, is a “systems review,” and the ACT demonstrates the “growth model” of testing. Looking at the math and reading scores, associate principal Pete Davis said that in the aggregate the high school made AYP in math and reading, coming in at above 69 percent in both subjects in the category of “all students.” By subgroups, however, the results were not sufficient to make AYP. Students in five subgroups – black students and students with a disability in both reading and math, and low-income students in math- did not meet even the safe harbor standards.

The achievement gap continues, with a substantial percentage of black and Hispanic students not meeting state standards on the PSAEs. In addition, the percentage of black students who met standards on the 2009 PSAEs substantially from the prior year, while the percentage of Hispanic students who met standards substantially increased:


On the 2009 PSAEs, 39% of ETHS African-American students met standards in reading and 37% in math, falling short of the AYP target in both areas. These percentages were down from 51% and 46% on the 2008 PSAEs.


60% of the ETHS’ Hispanic students met standards in reading on the 2009 PSAEs, up from 47% in 2008; 50% met standards in math, up from 38% in 2008. Hispanic students “have shown a steady gain over a three-year period,” said Mr. Davis, adding that last year all the English-language learners took the PSAE exam rather than an alternate exam.


93% of white students met standards in both reading and math on the 2009 PSAEs, up 2 points in reading from the prior year and 1 point in math from the prior year.


41% of students with a disability met standards in reading and 38% in math, about 4 percentage points higher in each subject. Both subgroups failed to make AYP.


40% of ETHS’ students from low-income families met standards in reading and 42% in math. There was improvement in the scores over last year, and students in this subgroup made AYP in reading but not in math.

ACT Scores

The composite ACT score achieved two benchmarks for ETHS. The composite score of 23.5 was an historic high for ETHS since 1972 when ETHS began documenting standardized test scores. It is also the highest ETHS composite since 2002 when all Illinois juniors began taking the ACT as part of the PSAE.

The national average composite ACT score is 21.1. Dr. Levinson said ETHS exceeds this, “even though nearly all ETHS seniors take the test, including struggling students who would not take the exam in other states because they are not intending to apply to a competitive college or university. … The ACT assessment is a college admissions and placement test that focuses on what is important for successful high school to college transitions.”

Dr. Levinson’s data shows that this year the composite ACT score for black seniors increased from 17.6 in 2008 to 19.2 in 2009; the composite ACT score for Latino students increased from 18.1 to 19.0; and the increase for white students went from 27.0 to 27.2. By subject, the composites were 23.7 in English; 24 in math; 23.4 in reading and 22.7 in science.

The data also reflects that the composite scores for black and white students at ETHS exceed the state and national averages. Black students at ETHS had a composite ACT score of 19.2, compared to a 16.8 state average and a 16.9 national average; white students at ETHS had a composite ACT score of 27.2, compared to a 22.4 state average and a 22.2 national average. The composite score for Hispanic students was slightly lower than both the state and national averages.

From Eighth Grade to Senior Year

ETHS uses the EPACT system – the EXPLORE/PLAN/ACT group of tests. The school also uses results of the EXPLORE test, given to eighth-graders mid-year, as one measure of assessment of students’ readiness for high school.

One component of the PSAE, given in junior year, is an ACT exam, which helps prepare students who plan to take the ACT senior year to apply for college, said Dr. Levinson.

Although District 65 uses the Illinois Standards Achievement Test to measure progress in K-8 grades, assessments at the high-school level follow the EPACT system.

Dr. Levinson said normal “student growth” in the EPACT system of tests from EXPLORE to the best, final ACT score [assuming that some students will take the test more than once] varies by subject area. For example, the expected growth in science is 3.3 points; the expected growth in English is 4.7; for math, it is 4.4; and for reading, it is 5.6, she said.

Dr. Levinson’s said scores of white students at ETHS increased between five and eight points from EXPLORE to ACT; however the gains of Latino and Black students hovered around an average of four points. Nonetheless, Dr. Levinson said, “Given that many Latino and black students enter ETHS with low scores on the EXPLORE test, the gains some of them make at ETHS are even greater than those predicted by EXPLORE results.”
She added, “Since these gains are from 8th to 11th grade and the ACT expected growth is based on gains of college-bound students from 8th to 12th grades, our gains for Black and Latino students are at or better than the ACT expected growth estimates. … In science we’re a little low but in reading and math we’re pretty much on track. The final twelfth-grade ACT score for ETHS will most likely be a little higher. “

The graduation rate is the trump card in the No Child Left Behind Act, said Oscar Hawthorne, assistant superintendent/principal at Evanston Township High School at the Sept. 14 School Board meeting. NCLB mandates a 78 percent graduation rate, and while ETHS’s rate is about 87.5 percent, neither the School Board nor the administration appeared to believe that was satisfactory.

A school’s graduation rate is a comparative measure of the cohort entering freshman year and graduating senior year, said Mr. Hawthorne. Fifth-year students and summer graduates are not counted.

The dropout rate is an annual comparison of the number of20students who begin and end the school year.

“We don’t want students to drop out,” Mr. Hawthorne said. In answer to a question from a School Board member, he said many juniors drop out after they take the PSAE.

This year, Mr. Hawthorne said, “We called students and invited them back to ETHS, because we understand the power of a high-school diploma.” Most of the students he talked to, he said, felt that they were so far behind in credits there was no way to get out of the hole.

To help these students get back, he said, ETHS will have a “virtual high school” by October, with rigorous online courses for students who have failed a course more than twice. Because students can work on this “credit-recovery” at home or at odd times, “They can earn credits back at a faster rather than in a normal classroom,” he said.

In addition, said Dr. Eric Witherspoon, the school has a better system of accounting the whereabouts of students. “We need to improve that graduation rate,” he said.


Percentage of ETHS Juniors Meeting Standards On 2007-09 PSAEs

Reading   2005   2006   2007   2008   2009

Black          35       35       36       46       39

Hispanic       49       51       35      38       50

White           91       89       90       90       93


Black           29        36       36       51       37

Hispanic       37        49       36       47       60

White            87        90       91       92       93

ETHS Seniors Composite Scores on ACTs

                 2005   2006   2007   2008   2009

Black          17.4    18.2    17.2    17.6   19.2

Hispanic      20.7    18.8    19.0     18.1   19.0

White           26.6    26.5    27.0     27.0   27.2

Is the High School Educating All Children Sufficiently?

Figures showed that while all students showed some gains between eighth-grade and junior year on standardized test scores, the gains of white students were significantly greater than – in some cases nearly twice – the gains showed by black and Hispanic students.

Board member Mark Metz said, “”I’m trying to understand what is going on with white students that makes them more motivated – why are they achieving so greatly?””

“”You’re asking exactly the question we always ask,”” Dr. Eric Witherspoon, District 202 Superintendent, replied. “”We know that we can see students achieve these kinds of gains at this school. We need to find how we can do it for all kids. We will look at all of our structures to see [how we can maximize] achievement for all kids.””

‘Path to Achievement for All’

District 202 has several steps in place for the 2009-10 school year to improve achievement for all students. One of these is the expansion of the literacy program “”Achievement Now”” to include the English, history, special education, applied sciences/technologies, math, and science departments. The focus of the program is teaching students how to read complex texts, said Assistant Superintendent Laura Cooper. “”The kids are taught to tackle every task with effective effort, which includes both hard work and effective strategies. … The core belief is, ‘Even if you’ve struggled in the past, you can learn to be a better learner,'”” she said.

Other initiatives are the expansion of System of Support (SOS); data analysis of students not graduating; continuation of test-prep course for juniors; expansion of co-teaching classes; and continued focus on increasing the numbers of students in honors and Advanced Placement courses.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...