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A report providing an overview of how Evanston Township High School students are doing on assessment tests, graduation and truancy was presented to the District 202 School Board at their Oct. 20 meeting.
Some of the highlights presented by Carrie Levy, director of research, evaluation and assessment, are:
• ETHS seniors registered the second highest ACT composite scores in history ever. Black, white and Latino students outscored their state and national counterparts on the ACT composite score.
• The percentage of juniors and seniors taking at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam is at an all-time high, with 64% taking at least one. These students also had the highest scores in ETHS’s history.
• Eleventh-graders’ performance on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) improved for eight of twelve subgroups in reading and math. The percentage of black students who met standards in reading increased by 10 percentage points; for Hispanic students the increase was 2.5 percentage points.
• The dropout rate of 1.1% is the lowest in history. The five-year graduation rate was 90%.
The Illinois At-A-Glance Report Card for 2013-14 provides some general characteristics of ETHS. Last year, there were 3,122 students: 43% white, 31% black, 17% Latino, 4% Asian and 5% multiracial. Of those, 41% were considered low income, 2% were English-language learners, 15% had disabilities and 4% were homeless. The average class size was 20, and the attendance rate 96%.
Dr. Levy presented information on several standardized tests given during the 2013-14 school year. While there was marked improvement in some categories, a wide achievement gap still remains between ethnic groups and by income level.
PSAE: The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) administered the PSAE to all eleventh-graders in the State. It has been a required test for graduation. Figures 1 and 2, below, show the percent of ETHS students, by ethnicity, who met standards in reading (Fig. 1) and math (Fig. 2) on the 2010-14 PSAEs.
While white ETHS students continue to perform at very high levels, with 92% percent meeting or exceeding standards in reading and 94 % in math, less than half of the black and Latino students at ETHS met or exceeded standards.
The beige bars in Figures 1 and 2 shows the percent of low-income students who met or exceeded standards during the five-year period. ETHS did not present data showing the percent of black and Hispanic students who are low-income, but at District 65, 77% of black students and 70% of Hispanic students are from low-income households. The wide gap in the achievement by ethnicity may be due in significant part to differences in opportunity associated with household income, as well as the increased challenges faced by children living in poverty.
On the positive side, the percentage of black students who met standards on the PSAEs jumped from 34% in 2013 to 43% in 2014. The percentage of Hispanic students who met standards in reading increased from 45% to 47%.
ACT Composite Scores: Many ETHS seniors take the ACT test, a college entrance exam, which includes tests in English, reading, math and science. The average composite score for all ETHS students taking the test in the 2013-14 school year was 23.6, the second highest in ETHS’ history. As in prior years, this composite score was much higher than the average composite score of all students in the State, and of all students in the nation.
Broken down by subject, the average reading score for all ETHS students was 23.7, which was the highest ever in reading. The average English, math, and science scores, however, were slightly lower than in 2013, but the average scores in those subjects have remained fairly constant since 2006.
The achievement report also reported average composite ACT scores for ETHS students by race/ethnicity and gender. Figure 3, below, shows the average composite ACT scores for black, Hispanic and white students for the last three years, during which there has been little change.
As in prior years, the average composite scores for black (17.9), Latino (19.9) and white (27.5) students were higher than those of their counterparts in the State (17, 18.5, and 22.5 respectively) and in the nation (17, 18.8, and 23 respectively).
The top of the beige shaded bars in Figure 3 reflect the composite benchmark score for college readiness, which is 21.25. The average composite score for white students is substantially above the composite benchmark for college readiness. The average composite score for black and Hispanic students, however, is below the benchmark.
Percent College Ready: The ACT has established college readiness benchmarks for English, reading, math and sciences. See sidebar.
On the 2014 ISATs, 71% of ETHS’s seniors met or exceeded ACT’s college readiness benchmark in English, 56% did so in math, 54% in reading, and 48% in science.
On a combined basis, 41% of the seniors met ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects.
ETHS did not report the percentage of its students who met or exceeded ACT’s college readiness benchmarks by ethnicity.
Growth from EXPLORE to ACT: One common way used to measure the growth of a group of students between freshman and junior years is to measure the growth between the group’s average score on the EXPLORE test (given to eighth-graders) and the groups’ average score on the ACT test (given to 11th and 12th graders). EXPLORE and ACT are part of the same family of tests, and under the scoring system a student’s score is expected to increase between the two tests to reflect normal expected growth. An issue is whether a students’ growth is more or less than that expected.
At ETHS, the average gains between the EXPLORE test and the ACT test were significantly different for different ethnic groups. Figure 4, below, illustrates that in both reading and math the gains for white students were significantly higher than the gains for Hispanic and black students. For example, in math the average gain for white students was 7.4 points, compared to 3.7 points for black and Hispanic students.
ACT expects a 5-point gain between EXPLORE and the ACT for students who were on track to college readiness in eighth grade. But ACT’s publications point out that students who were on target for college readiness in eighth grade on average grow at a faster pace than students who were not on target in eighth grade. See e.g., ACT publications, “How Much Growth Toward College Readiness Is Reasonable to Expect in High School,” and “The Forgotten Middle.”
The EXPLORE scores in Figure 4 reflect while most white students come into ETHS well on track to college and career readiness, the same is not true of many minority students.
AP Courses: The Advanced Placement (AP) program gives students the chance to try college-level work in high school. Students in AP courses take an exam at the end of the course. If they earn a “qualifying” grade on this test, they can apply for college credit at the institution they attend. ETHS has been encouraging more black and Hispanic students to take AP courses as a way to provide them with more rigorous courses and better prepare them for college.
In 2013-14, 71% of the juniors and seniors at ETHS took AP exams, up 4% from 2013, and up 14% from 2011. While the percent of students taking AP exams has increased, the percent who have obtained a qualifying grade has also increased from 65% in 2011 to 71% in 2014.
Standardized Tests and Future Measurement of Growth
Up until this year, the EXPLORE, PLAN and PSAE/ACT tests have allowed ETHS to monitor the academic growth of students as they move through high school and also provide a standard for comparison with other students in the State and nationally.
The EXPLORE, PLAN and PSAE assessments are being discontinued this year, however. Beginning this school year, ISBE will require school districts to administer the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments. These assessments will replace the PSAE as the state accountability measure for schools. Students enrolled in a grade 11 English course will be required to take the PARCC English/Language Arts/Literacy (ELA/Literacy) assessment and students enrolled in a 2 Algebra course will be required to take the PARCC math assessment, states the achievement report. Unlike the PSAE assessments which were given to all eleventh-graders as an end-of-year assessment, PARCC is given as an end-of-course test.
ETHS will need three years before it can measure growth using PARCC, said Dr. Levy. Staff has repeatedly expressed frustration to the School Board over problems with the PARCC test in its current form. ETHS, along with many other districts in the State, are talking with legislators and members of ISBE about how to proceed with what is seen by many as a subpar assessment tool. See Oct. 9 issue of the RoundTable and page 30 for more on PARCC.
Areas to Improve
The achievement report points out a few areas where ETHS can improve. The percent of students that meet or exceed the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in all four subject areas is only 41%. There is room to increase this percentage, says the report, particularly the percent of students meeting or exceeding ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English and math.
The report also says that a new state formula which significantly expands the definition for chronic truancy makes it important that ETHS increase its efforts to reduce the truancy rate. Marcus Campbell, Assistant Superintendent/Principal, mentioned that ETHS now has a dedicated staff person to “make sure students are at school” which has helped bring down the truancy number this year and is expected to help in years to come.
The report also noted that, while the ETHS graduation rate exceeds the State and national rates, it adds, “we still need to focus on increasing the percent of students staying in school and graduating.”
Student Board Member MD Shelton pointed out that a “really big and concerning gap” exists between minority and white students’ scores and asked what was being done to close it. Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said that several actions had been taken to address student needs. He stressed the school’s philosophy that “all students can succeed,” and said that ETHS is “raising expectations for all students” citing the opening of AP classes to a wider population. He also pointed to increased supports such as Team ASAP and the Student Success Center. The school is working to “make sure our practice matches our beliefs,” he said.
A presentation on ETHS’ Black Male Summit given to the Board referenced the student achievement gap as well. “Last year at this time, when we were giving the student achievement report, there was a lot of discussion around what to do with black males,” said Marcus Campbell, principal/assistant superintendent. “I shared with you that we were planning something bold, planning something big…and here a year later, this is what we were discussing, the Black Male Summit.”
The goal of the summit, which Mr. Campbell and others stressed would not be an isolated event, was to link black male students with mentors in the community and instill in them a sense of pride that will increase their overall success into adulthood. They said the summit would also provide a “blueprint” for how to target other groups who need assistance.
ACT College Readiness Benchmarks
ACT’s College Readiness Benchmark Scores are the scores needed on an ACT subject test that indicate a 50% chance of earning at least a “”B”” or a 75% chance of earning at least a “”C”” in corresponding credit-bearing college courses. The benchmarks scores are: 18 in English, 22 in reading, 22 in math, and 23 in science. The average of these four benchmark scores is 21.25, which is at times referred to as a composite benchmark score.