The proposal for a new single-level Freshman Humanities course at Evanston Township High School generated considerable public discussion and controversy both before and after the District 202 School Board approved it in December.

This new Freshman Humanities structure, to be implemented next fall, assigns freshmen who read at the 40th percentile or above on the EXPLORE test to a single level of the required Humanities class.

The class will be taught at the honors level but will require students to earn honors credit based on their performance on several common assessments to be administered over the course of the semester.

This program eliminates the honors-only classes previously offered to students reading at or above the 95th percentile. The plan is to implement similar changes to Freshman Biology the following year.

At its Feb. 28 meeting, Board members heard a framework of how the administration intends to evaluate and monitor the program.

“We want to have the very best information that we can get to proceed on the changes that will be implemented for next fall and to be sure it’s affecting our students in positive ways,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “If any modifications or tweaks need to be made … we want to be keeping a close eye on that and monitoring that. [We will] take a long view how we measure over time the effect that the restructuring is having on student achievement.”

“[We will] report on a timely basis,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Diep Nguyen, “and make an evaluation whether or not these efforts are working to the benefit of our students.” She said that the approach will allow the administration to “make just-in-time adjustments. We are clear about the objectives and we want to try to collect as many points of data as possible.”

Program Objectives

There are five major program objectives for the new Freshman Humanities course:

• Develop and implement a relevant common core 1 Humanities curriculum that is rigorous and aligned to AP expectations and Illinois Common Core Standards

• Provide academic support structures to assist students needing additional help in literacy and study skills to be successful

• Over time, increase the number of students who earn honors credit in 1 Humanities and moving on to other honors and AP courses, including underrepresented, that is, minority and low-income, students

• Solicit professional expert input and research to improve program implementation and build a model of effective school improvement

• Communicate to the Board of Education and the community the progress and results of the program on a timely basis.

any of aspects of the program will be completed by this coming summer, including the curriculum, which will be revised by July.

Benchmark assessments to monitor student achievement will be completed by August. The first meetings of “critical friends” will be in September. Critical friends, the administration said, are “experts with regional and national expertise,” who will provide on-site visits and recommendations to ensure program success.

Teachers will be surveyed on the effectiveness of professional development. Administrators will provide monthly updates to the Board and community about implementation of the program, and other evaluation and reporting is scheduled to take place over the next two years at least.

Board Comments

Board members had many comments about the proposal.

“This is about the students,” said student Board member Joel Michael Schwartz. “The evaluation should be expanded to get the students’-eye view.”

“I think we’re on the same page,” responded Dr. Judith Levinson, director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment. “We have done some focus groups with students and asked them about what additional supports they need, what kinds of assessments they like and what kinds of assessments they do best on.”

Deborah Graham asked whether professional development in differentiated instruction, which is scheduled to be offered in June, is mandatory for Freshman Humanities teachers.

“The professional development opportunity that we are trying to schedule for June is required for all teachers who have not already participated in training in differentiated instruction,” said Dr. Nguyen. “Freshman Humanities teachers have already participated in training in differentiated instruction with [consultant] Jessica Hockett. Freshman Biology teachers will be required to participate [in the June training].”

“I would encourage it to be mandatory,” responded Ms. Graham.

Ms. Graham also said it was hard to hold the administration accountable for progress without numerical goals. She added that she was not sure what they meant by the phrase “over time” in the third program objective: “to increase the number of students who earn honors credit over time.”

“We need to have time to grow the program,” said Dr. Nguyen. “I don’t want to set unattainable goals. By the third year we should have some solid data about the rate of increase in how many students we were able to move from regular credit to honors to AP. Once we have the baseline, we can set attainable, measurable goals year by year.”

“What are we doing to make sure that kids feel comfortable and a sense of belonging [in this newly structured class]?” asked vice president Jane Colleton.

Dr. Nguyen said “Culturally responsive teaching and attending to student well-being” were key.

Ms. Colleton also asked when the guidelines for the (earned) honors credit part of the Freshman Humanities program would be completed.

“The assessment team is working with Dr. [Peter] Bavis and Mr. [Marcus] Campbell, and we are bringing in an assessment expert. We will be happy to share when this is completed,” said Dr. Nguyen. Dr, Bavis is associate principal for teaching and learning and Mr. Campbell is director of the AVID program.

Finally, Ms. Colleton asked whether parents would be included in the assessment of the program.

“Yes, but we need to determine how,” said Dr. Levinson. “Maybe [through] focus groups, maybe [through the] School Improvement Team. We need to give more time for the program to develop.”

“How are we communicating to parents who have students in middle school?” asked Mary Wilkerson. “We want to dispel myths about the program.”

Oscar Hawthorne, assistant superintendent/principal said that meetings with middle-school parents had already taken place in December and January and that there would be a second round of middle-school meetings in April and May.

After some discussion, the Board arrived at a consensus to approve the framework of the monitoring and evaluation plan and to ask for more details when they are available.