After hearing a presentation of the evaluation plan for the new Freshman Humanities course, District 202 Board members decided to put off for a year placing any kind of numerical goals on its evaluation, which concurred with a recommendation made by Dr. Judith Levinson, Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment and echoed by Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. 

“We feel it is inappropriate to identify specific performance targets ahead of time,” said Dr. Levinson, in her report to the Board.  “In this case, it is not possible to establish an explicit, consensual performance standard in advance of collecting data and reporting results. The restructured Humanities Program is new. To set a standard requires a guess at a criterion. However, the use of comparison groups permits us to determine if the restructured Humanities Program is producing better outcomes than our former program.” 

Last spring, when the Board first considered the evaluation plan, they discussed at length the value of placing numerical goals on some of the components of the programs in order to, as some Board members, including Deborah Graham and Jonathan Baum stated, “determine what success means.” 

At the time, President Mark Metz and other Board members expressed concern that not enough information was available to give context to a numerical goal and that “any number we set now will be arbitrary.” 

Similar discussion was held at the Board meeting on Sept. 12, where Dr. Levinson and her colleague Dr. Carrie Livingston presented a revised evaluation plan which incorporated some suggestions provided by the Board.  The new approach will be evaluated across seven different categories: 

  • Is the new 1 Humanities curriculum rigorous? Is the curriculum aligned with the Illinois Common Core Standards?  
  • Is the new 1 Humanities curriculum implemented with fidelity? 
  • Do teachers have enough support to fully implement the new curriculum?  
  • Are the academic support structures aligned with the new 1 Humanities curriculum?  
  • Do students enrolled in the new 1 Humanities curriculum perform the same or better over time than previous cohorts of students?  
  • Are more students, particularly minority and low-income students, enrolling in honors and AP English and History courses over the course of their high school career than previous cohorts? 
  • Are students satisfied with the course? 

Administrators will use several different methods of evaluation and data collection, including external expert review, classroom visits, teacher and student surveys, administrator interviews, and critical friend assessments. 

“I think we’re asking all the right questions,” said Mr. Baum at the Sept. 12 meeting. “I think we need to have a definition of success – if you take a patient’s temperature all of the information you get isn’t useful unless you know that 85 is hypothermia and 104 is a fever.” 

“I think we can reach common ground here,” he continued. “We must have some idea of what the intended benefits and expectations are.”  He listed some suggestions of areas which could be quantified and set as goals: 

  • Significant growth in EXPLORE to ACT scores in students who would previously have been in non-honors classes.  
  • At least no diminution of scores of students who would have been in standalone honors classes.   
  • Significant increase and successful completion of 10-12th grade honors and AP courses by students formerly underrepresented in those courses. 
  • At least no diminution in enrollment and successful completion in those courses by students who were formerly well-represented in them. 

Board President Mark Metz took another position as he had in the past.  

“While those may be laudable (goals),” he said, “there’s a lot of things which affect whether a student enrolls in honors or AP courses later in their high school career … there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between those circumstances and those outcomes and a single course in the freshman year.  How would we put numbers to that until we’ve collected the data?” 

“Education is so organic,” added Board member Rachel Hayman.  “I believe in data driven decision making … We will have our numbers … We will have the data, we will know if it’s not working.  This is not a program.  It’s a change in the way we’re treating students when they enter the high school.  I’m completely comfortable with the methodology you’ve set forth … over time we’ll get a lot of information.  I will almost guarantee that in year 3, 4, or 5 it will be different.  To arbitrarily set targets … I would say it’s premature.” 

Although she had originally asked to place numerical goals on the evaluation right away, Ms. Graham tempered her request. 

“We have numbers attached to most of our other Board goals, I don’t know where those numbers come from and what makes them credible,” Ms. Graham explained.  “I would suggest a compromise – to have no numerical goals for the first year to give it an opportunity to find its sea legs – and then establish them the next year. 

“We’re in the middle of our 2010-2012 goals,” offered Dr. Witherspoon. “You’ll be looking at the District goals (again) next year.  I would suggest putting the kind of wording (that Mr. Baum suggested) in the District goals, because this course is one tool … we need to be looking at the whole system.” 

“I don’t think Jonathan suggested specific numbers,” said Board member Gretchen Livingston. (He) talked about ‘significantly increasing’.  I support that kind of a goal – for the same reasons I’d support what Dr. Witherspoon was suggesting at a bigger level.  Getting this incorporated into our broader goals makes a huge amount of sense.”