Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

The Freshman Humanities program at Evanston Township High School is showing “encouraging results,” according to a second-year evaluation presented to the District 202 School Board on June 28. Administrators, however, also cited the need for fine-tuning and other adjustments as the program moves ahead.

Dr. Judith Levinson, director of research, evaluation and assessment, reported that “the demographic data indicate the program is making progress in meeting the objectives, and student and faculty generally provided positive feedback. …” The program was evaluated against ten objectives (see sidebar).

“We used to save our best curriculum for the honors classes, and then we offered something less to students who weren’t in honors,” said District 202 Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon. “This is about believing that every student deserves the best curriculum, the most challenging curriculum we can offer.”

“I think we have ample evidence that by pushing kids up and challenging them more, more kids are lifted up and do better,” remarked School Board member Mark Metz. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything to indicate that we’re dragging down our brighter students. In my mind we’re on the right track … but there’re still a lot of things to be fixed. This is very complex,” he added.

“What are your takeaways?” Mr. Metz asked Dr. Witherspoon. “What are the key things we need to focus on, the adjustments we need to make it better?”

In response, Dr. Witherspoon listed the following positive aspects of the program: Significantly more students take Freshman Humanities for honors credit; more students take honors courses in their sophomore year; there are measurable gains from scores on the EXPLORE test to scores on the PLAN test by students in mixed-level classes; there have been fewer grades of D and F; students at all levels say they feel challenged; and the school administrators are getting a better definition of mixed-level classes.

Dr. Witherspoon also said, “We need to work with our teachers to better understand [differentiated instruction] so that students can maximize their performance in those classes.” He added that there needs to be more effort placed on helping students understand the value of support programs earlier in their high school career.

Exposure to Honors Curricula

In an effort to expose more students to honors-level work, a primary objective of the new program, ETHS administrators eliminated the regular level of Freshman Humanities two years ago.

All ETHS freshmen with EXPLORE reading scores between the 40th and 94th percentile are now assigned to a mixed-level class, which has the same curriculum as the straight honors-level class. Previously the curriculum for mixed-level classes was different from that for straight honors-level classes. Administrators said the change in curricula have resulted in an increase in the number of students exposed to an honors-level curriculum and the added potential of ease of movement between levels without having to adjust their schedules.

In the 2007-08 school year, before the new program was implemented, 229 students were in mixed-level Freshman Humanities classes. In 2009-10, 430 students were in the mixed-level class, all receiving “exposure to the honors curriculum.” In 2009-10, 39 percent of students in the mixed-level classes were black, up from 30 percent in 2007-08. In 2009-10, 13 percent were Hispanic, up from 12 percent in 2007-08. In 2009-10, 44 percent were low-income, up from 25 percent in 2007-08.

More Students Take Freshman Humanities for Honors credit

Administrators said the implementation of the new Freshman Humanities program resulted in an increase in students taking the course for honors credit.

In the 2007-08 school year, before the new program was implemented, 278 students took Freshman Humanities for honors credit. In 2009-10, 430 students took that class for honors credit.

One of the objectives of the new program is to increase the number of students from historically under-represented groups taking Humanities for honors credit. A small amount of progress has been made in this area with the implementation of the new program. Before the new program was implemented, 16 percent of honors-credit students were black, 6 percent were Hispanic and 14 percent were low-income. In 2009-10, 16 percent were black, 7 percent were Hispanic and 18 percent were low-income.

More Diversity of Views in Mixed-Level Classes

Administrators compared the extent to which students in mixed-level Freshman Humanities classes felt they were exposed to a wide range of views with those of students in honors-only classes. According to the report, approximately 75 percent of students in mixed-level classes reported that they were at least somewhat exposed to a wide range of views during both years of the program, whereas only about one-third of students in honors-only classes reported that they were at least somewhat exposed to a wide range of views in the first year of the program. In the second year, that percentage increased to more than half of honors-only students, even though the diversity of honors-only classes did not substantially increase.

Improved Student Achievement

Administrators were concerned that in the first year of the program the percentage of D and F grades increased for students in the mixed-level classes.

“It was suggested that this [increase] was in part due to the implementation of a new program,” stated the report.

However, in the second year of the program, administrators reported that, “for semester 1 of 2009-10, the percentages of A/B grades increased both for English and history are back to the levels prior to implementing the revised mixed-level curriculum. Similarly, the percentage of D/F/NC grades is lower than 2008-09 and more like previous years.”

Administrators also reported that all students in the first cohort of the program had made gains between the EXPLORE test, taken in eighth grade, and the PLAN test, taken in tenth grade. Particular note was made of students who had qualified for placement in the mixed-level class for regular-level credit but had been moved up to honors-level credit in the mixed-level class because of teacher, parent or student request. Those students showed the most improvement in their scores between EXPLORE and PLAN, administrators said.

The Freshman Humanities program will be evaluated again in 2011, at the end of the third year of implementation, administrators said.

Freshman Humanities Objectives

Ten objectives and a measure of faculty and student satisfaction were assessed in the report. Six were identified in the Mixed-Level Study conducted in 2005 and updated in discussions with teachers and administrators. The ten objectives are as follows:

1. Exposing more students to Humanities honors-level classes;

2. Increasing the numbers of under-represented students in Humanities honors-level classes;

3. Increasing the diversity of views in Humanities classes;

4. Providing the same learning experience for Humanities students enrolled for regular and honors credit;

5. Switching levels easily from regular-level to honors-level credit within mixed-level Humanities classes;

6. Increasing intellectual rigor in Humanities classes;

7. Improving student achievement in Humanities classes;

8. Encouraging and explicitly teaching students how to become successful in English and History classes;

9. Increasing teachers’ understanding and use of differentiated instruction;

10. Increasing support structures to help students achieve.