Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

An update on Freshman Restructuring shows that the initiative seems to be having the intended effect: more students are enrolling in Advanced Placement and Honors classes their junior and senior years. The report, presented to the District 202 School Board at their May 26 meeting, was prepared by ETHS’ Department of Research, Evaluation and Assessment with help from David Figlio of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research and his staff.

Prior to the restructuring, a lower than desired number of 10th- and 11th-grade students were taking honors and Advanced Placement courses.  Not all students had access to the higher level courses.  Placement criteria had been based on eighth-grade EXPLORE test scores, not how students performed in their classes.

Starting in 2011-12, all freshmen scoring at least a 40 on the EXPLORE test were placed in the restructure 1 Humanities class, a class that combines English and History. The class curriculum was elevated to be aligned with Advanced Placement, Common Core and ACT College Reading standards.  An earned honors model was added. Teachers all teach high-level skills, common assessments are administered to students and courses use a common grading scale. “Through revising these courses, Evanston Township High School is able to increase expectations and guarantee a curriculum,” according to the report.  In 2012-13, the same was done with 1 Biology.

Initial findings show increased enrollment and success in AP and honors classes across all categories.

“We set out to create a school where our students have access to the best opportunities we offer, where students can be in the most rigorous courses they can.  We needed to provide more pathways so students can be more successful, not locking kids out of opportunities or predetermining what they could and could not do,” said Eric Witherspoon, ETHS Superintendent, as he introduced the restructuring presentation.  He said the school “leveraged” three freshman courses – English, history, biology – and made “many other transformations in the culture of this school about how we provide supports, raise expectations, how we deal with issues of race, how we deal with what students bring when they come and help them maximize opportunities at this school.  We are building a culture of success and high expectations, a culture where all children of all backgrounds, all colors and socioeconomic experiences would have the best opportunities we have for them.  We’ve only been at this a short time. But trend lines and other things remind us that a whole lot of kids demonstrate a whole lot better results.”

Effort and Locus of Control

The update report, the second since the initiative began, also measured students’ effort and locus of control.  A survey was administered to ninth-grade students asking how much effort they put forth in their English, history and biology classes: a lot, some or little to no effort.  It was found that a majority of grade 9 students do put forth effort in their English, history, and biology courses.  In English, for example, it was found that 67% of all students put forth “a lot” of effort, 27% “some” effort, and 6% “little or no” effort.  

Results showed that white students are more likely to put forth effort than black or Latino students.  Seventy-two percent of white students put forth “a lot” of effort, while 66% of black and 61% of Latino students said the same. The numbers were very similar for history and biology. 

“Locus of Control” is the extent to which individuals believe they can control events that affect them. The survey assessed this by asking students to rate statements such as, “I’m certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in my textbooks” and “I’m confident I can do an excellent job on my assignments.”   

Students who score high believe they have command over their learning. Students who score low believe that external factors have command over their learning. Overall, 39% of students were found to have a high locus of control, 45% rated as medium and 16% low. Results indicated that white students are more likely than black or Latino students to have a high Locus of Control.  In English, for example, 46% of white students were found to have a high locus of control, while 33% of Black and 27% of Latino students reported the same.


While these findings are compelling, the report concludes that “it is too early in the evaluation to make any generalizations about what these findings mean.” Since the initiative is only in its third year, solid data on outcomes are not available.  Those who started the freshman program have not yet reached their senior year. In the near future, the program will be able to analyze its effectiveness not only with enrollment in advanced classes, but also with ACT scores, graduation rates and college acceptance.

Board member Bill Geiger asked if the data showed any “areas of promise.”  “Locus of control,” said Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “That is something we can move on, a barometer.  We will ‘key in’ on that.”

Dr. Bavis said that ETHS must also pay attention to “onboarding of new teachers into the program” and professional development.

Board member Jonathan Baum asked, “what is the relevant data?”  When comparing this year’s report to last year’s, different data were extrapolated, said Mr. Baum. Carrie Levy, Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment, said that the EXPLORE and PLAN tests are no longer administered making data gathering different. 

Dr. Figlio added that his team advised ETHS to transition from simple data reporting to a focus on outcomes which changes the nature of the report. Gretchen Livingston asked that “going forward, we reflect on how to organize the flow of information” so that it’s easier for the Board and the public can make better sense of the information. Dr. Figlio said that what’s really important to think about is that there will be differences between the first report and future reports because there are now more people involved in advising the process, so information will be tweaked along the way.  “I think it’s essential that the Board and administration be the ones to figure out the outcomes, to set the goals” for the report.

A discussion also ensured on Honors credits: the difference between earned honors and straight honors classes; why some courses require an assessment and some do not.  “Perhaps this is a discussion for another day” stated Mr. Baum.

“People, we’ve got good news here,” concluded Dr. Witherspoon.

The entire report can be found on the ETHS website.