A familiar blend of caution and urgency combined during the Nov. 7 District 202 School Board meeting, where discussion continued about the proposed new curriculum and the earned-honors-credit approach for the biology course, taken by most students in their freshman year.
Administrators say the newly designed curriculum is more rigorous, aligned with the College Board’s recently revised Advanced Placement Biology course. Under the proposal, all students with reading scores on the EXPLORE or MAP tests (taken in eighth grade) above the 40th percentile (considered grade level) will study the same material in the same classroom and will earn honors credit through a series of common assessments administered throughout the school year.
Last year, the School Board voted to implement a similar approach to freshman humanities, as part of a District-wide effort to “eliminate institutional beliefs, policies, practices, and teaching that perpetuate racial disparities in achievement.”
Mr. Metz said the Board had to move forward on accepting the biology proposal despite the fact that “we have heard some outcry that we shouldn’t be considering this at this time…because we don’t have data [from freshman humanities]. We can’t separate [humanities and biology]. … Either we’re going to restructure the freshman year or we’re not. … We need to think about a sense of urgency. … We have to remember we are talking about impacting real lives … That’s where our first and last obligation lies.”
Board member Scott Rochelle, who was not on the board for the vote last December, repeated a concern he expressed at the October 24th meeting that although “I am in support of the work in equity and achievement that the district is doing. … I love the curriculum and the earned honors model. … We’re getting ahead of ourselves … I have a question about how the students at the lower end are going to respond.”
Mr. Rochelle said he would feel more comfortable if students who had eighth- grade MAP scores in the 40th-49th percentile would wait until they were sophomores to take biology. “This would allow them to grow their reading skills … handle the new curriculum in freshman humanities [and have a] full year to navigate high school and learn to access supports. They’d be a year older and better able to compete.”
“My gut reaction to Scott’s proposal is very positive,” said Board member Rachel Hayman. “It makes sense to me if it makes sense to educators in the room.”
Administrators confirmed that usually there were less than 30 students taking biology as freshmen who fell in the 40th-49th percentile. Many students testing at that level wait until sophomore year in any case for biology, as their freshman year schedule often includes additional reading or mathematics support and does not allow time for science, administrators said.
Ms. Hayman also said she agreed with Mr. Metz’s inclination to move ahead with the proposal. “One quarter, one year of data is not going to inform us. … I do not think we can continue not to provide the opportunities to all students that we provide to some students … Earned honors model is a game changer.”
Board member Jonathan Baum, who was not on the Board for the vote last year and who advocated that the Board acquire more data before implementing the humanities proposal disagreed with Mr. Metz and Ms. Hayman.
“It’s one thing to do something the first time because you hope it works,” he said. “[Although] I enthusiastically endorse the new curriculum and the earned honors … one of the reasons is I think we need data [is so we can answer comments from the community], ‘Is ETHS on some kind of ideological crusade against tracking?’ We should be able to say we are on an empirical quest to see what works. Our kids should not be guinea pigs.”
Vice-President Martha Burns said, “Kids of color are used every day as guinea pigs … White people write articles and essays about kids of color … I don’t see them writing about white kids so much … You have an elitist attitude about who you think should be in class together … Our students are not commodity – the fact that I have to sit up here and listen to people say that this is not about race. … We need to wake up and deal with that.”
Mr. Metz attempted to defuse the emotional confrontation by calling a five-minute recess.
When the Board returned he addressed the Board as a whole, saying, “People have suggested to me that we shouldn’t talk about race in connection with this discussion,” he said. “To me to talk about this freshman restructuring without talking about race is like talking about a 24 hour rotation of earth without talking about darkness and light. We should be able to talk about race without feeling attacked or threatened … The community is well served if we remain civil … Everyone should speak their own truth.”
The rest of the discussion returned to the question of data and Mr. Rochelle’s suggestion about students in the 40th to 49th percentile.
Student Board member Jesse Chatz suggested that the Board wait to see how students reacted to the new Freshman Humanities curriculum and earned honors approach.
Board members Deborah Graham and Gretchen Livingston both stated that when they voted in favor of last year’s proposal, they were voting in favor of changing the Humanities course, not necessarily biology.
“It’s not that I disagree with this proposal,” said Ms. Graham. “It’s premature.”
Ms. Livingston suggested that if Mr. Rochelle’s suggestion was incorporated, administrators should closely evaluate each affected student to ensure their test scores would not hold them back from taking biology in freshman year if they so desired. “A student could have had a migraine on test day,” she said. “[Given the number of students involved] it would not be not that hard to have that kind of conversation with each and every one of the students.”
Mr. Metz said that discussion on the topic would continue at a future meeting when administrators had had a chance to review and possibly incorporate Mr. Rochelle’s suggestions.
Comments from the public are posted on line at evanstonroundtable.comm.