The Evanston Township High School District 202 School Board recently voted unanimously to restructure the freshman educational experience at ETHS so that more freshmen will be in challenging classes with the honors curriculum that has historically been reserved for honors-only classes. By having more rigorous classes for most freshmen, holding them to higher expectations, requiring students to earn honors credit rather than automatically conferring honors credit based on an 8th-grade test, and supporting freshmen to do well in demanding classes, ETHS will prepare more freshmen to take more honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes during their sophomore, junior and senior years.

Beginning next fall, the Board-approved restructuring will eliminate the honors-only track in Humanities, an interdisciplinary English and history course, and place all freshmen who read at grade level in the existing mixed-level (honors and regular) Humanities course that offers the same honors curriculum, aligned with AP program standards, that is taught in the honors-only sections. ETHS has 24 AP courses and 118 courses offering honors credit. Restructuring the freshman experience will expand the demand for those classes. While this model applies to Humanities next year, the following year it will expand to include biology, following further preparation and School Board review during the 2011-12 school year.

The School Board members have done their homework. This is a well-thought-out decision based on years of data analysis and years of improvements that position District 202 to be able to successfully restructure. Board members have thoroughly studied the ETHS data, which confirms that our freshman structure has historically disadvantaged many students, mostly non-white students, by using one standardized test in the 8th grade to sort students into classes where they did not get the challenging honors-level academic preparation required for doing honors and AP work.

To prepare for this restructuring, many upgrades have been put into place in recent years. The Freshman Humanities honors-only curriculum is now the exact same curriculum used in the mixed-level classes. Students in mixed-level classes can earn honors credit or regular credit. The same teachers who teach honors-only also teach mixed-level to assure that the same honors curriculum is taught in all the classes. Many of these teachers also teach AP classes. The honors-only final exam is now the common exam for all the Humanities classes. There are also other common assessments throughout the semester to assure that the honors-only and mixed-level classes are identical and being taught to the highest standards.

ETHS is well-positioned for this restructuring. ETHS students perform much higher than the national average on nationally normed tests. For example, 54% of the freshman class this year scored in the top quartile on the EXPLORE test taken last year, and 80% of the class scored in the top two quartiles. As a result, 72% of our students currently in Freshman Humanities honors-only and mixed-level classes are earning honors credit and 28% are taking the course for regular credit. Based on this data, we can project that 72% or more of the freshmen in Humanities next year will be committed to earning challenging honors credit that will prepare them to take more rigorous honors and AP classes.

All students in the Humanities classes, including those earning regular credit, benefit from taking rigorous freshman classes. In an era when American schools are being challenged to raise academic achievement and do a better job educating all students, this recommendation will increase rigor for our freshmen and propel them to higher academic achievement during their four years of high school. Education is highly valued in Evanston, more so than many other places. And this restructuring approved by the School Board is designed to meet community expectations and get better results.

Evanston is fortunate to have a school board that carefully examines the data, studies the issues, investigates the research, assesses programs and results, thoroughly assesses the readiness of ETHS to make needed improvements, and makes data-driven decisions to increase student achievement. As a result of this important decision to restructure, academic expectations at ETHS will increase.