The District 202 School Board is poised to adopt low expectations for college readiness, and low expectations for students who are performing at the lower level of the achievement scale, the majority of whom are black and Hispanic students. Embedded in this editorial is our belief that all students can and should succeed.

At the May 9 Board meeting, administrators proposed metrics to use in assessing whether students are college ready. Unlike the ACT, which sets benchmarks based on whether a student has a 50% probability of getting a B in freshman year of college, administrators proposed that ETHS use four criteria that they say on a combined basis predict whether a student will “persist” into a second year of college.

Administrators say they patterned their proposed benchmarks after benchmarks being touted by a group of superintendents in a movement called “Redefining Ready.” In lengthy editorial in the March 11 issue of the RoundTable, we opined that Redefining Ready’s benchmarks are low and are tailored to prepare students for C level work in college. Because of grade inflation, 77% of the grades given in four-year colleges are As and Bs. Aiming for C level work sets a low bar, akin to barely getting by.

The criteria proposed by ETHS administrators, which they say is tailored for ETHS students, are even lower than those proposed by the Redefining Ready group.

Administrators propose to define a student at ETHS as college ready if the student satisfies each of the following four criteria:

• Having an overall GPA of 2.6 or better

• Earning a C- or better in 2 Algebra

• Earning a C- in an Advanced Placement/Project Lead the Way (AP/PLTW)course at ETHS and a passing grade on the national test

• Graduating  from ETHS

What Do We Want for Our Children?

Administrators say 86% of students who meet these criteria persist into second year of college.

We think the beginning question is this: What do we want for our children?

Do we want all of our students prepared to do at least B level work in freshman year in a four-year college? And keep in mind that 77% of all grades given in four-year colleges are As and Bs, so this is not a stretch.

Do we want to set a goal where we prepare them to be able to do only C level work in freshman year in a four-year college? And what does that mean? At the University of Illinois at Chicago, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University, and other colleges, a GPA of 2.0 is the borderline between passing and being put on probation. 

Do we want to prepare students so their only option is a community college? If students choose that course, that is one thing. But if their opportunities are limited because we did not prepare them adequately, is that acceptable? Further, the Illinois State Board of Education reports that 55% of ETHS students who enrolled in a community college were required to take a remedial course.

Do we want to prepare all students so they have a shot at going to a highly selective college, such as the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana, or a good chance of being admitted to a selective or a somewhat selective college? Students’ life chances vary depending on where they go to college, and their likelihood of graduating varies depending on the college they attend.

Do we want our students to graduate from college? What is the graduation rate by race?

These are all important questions. But, ETHS administrators by-passed all these questions and set the measure of success at “persisting” into a second year of college. Under their standard, a student is deemed to “persist” if he or she is enrolled for one semester in a two- or four-year college in the first year after graduation from ETHS and enrolls for a semester in the second year after graduation. There is no requirement that students have any specified GPA in first year college. Both two- and four-year colleges are included.

According to information on the websites of University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern, Southern, Northeastern, and Oakton, students may enroll in second year of college if they have a GPA of 2.0, or if they have below a 2.0 and are on probation for only one semester, or if they have below a GPA of 2.0 and are on probation for two semesters and have a waiver.

Persisting to second year of college thus does not require performing in college at a B level or a B- level or even at a C level. It sets a very low bar.

We think that ETHS should, at a minimum, strive to prepare its students to do B level work in a four-year college. We think this level of preparation is necessary for students to succeed in college, or if they choose not to go to college, for a career.

The Criteria Are Not Aimed At B Level Work

ETHS administrators have no data showing the proposed criteria predict that a student will do B level work in freshman year college. What data there are shows the criteria fall far short of the mark.

In 2014, black students at ETHS had an average GPA of 2.62. The average GPA for Hispanic students was 2.71; it was 3.71 for white students.

In 2014, only 20 % of black students and 31% of Hispanic students met the college readiness benchmarks in reading on the ACT, compared to 86% of white students. Students who meet ACT’s benchmarks have a 50% chance of obtaining a B in freshman year of college. A GPA of 2.6 or 2.7 at ETHS does not translate into being prepared to do B level work in college.

 An ACT study found that a student needs a high school GPA of 3.4 to predict a 50% probability of obtaining a 3.0 (a B average) in college. The College Board, the owner of the SAT, recommended that an assessment system use a high school GPA of 3.33 to predict a 65% probability of obtaining a 2.67 ( a B- average) in freshman year of college.

A high school GPA of 2.6 does not predict a student will be able to do B level work in college. The other criteria proposed by administrators require doing  C- work in high school. Doing C- work in high school does not translate into doing B level work in college.

The 86% Number is Meaningless

ETHS administrators say that 86% of the students who meet or exceed the proposed criteria “persist” into second year of college. Significantly, the 86% number includes students who both “meet and exceed” the criteria.  It is not limited to students who just “meet” the criteria. When a methodology includes a group who both “meet and exceed” specified criteria, the lower the criteria, the higher the percentage. A key factor in evaluating the criteria is how students fare who just “meet” the criteria.  

At the May 9 meeting, ETHS administrators touted the 86% number by comparing it with ACT’s methodology. The ACT has set its benchmarks at scores that predict that a student has a 50% chance of obtaining a B in a freshman year college course. There are two huge differences between the ACT’s approach and ETHS’s. First, the ACT’s benchmarks predict whether a student will do B level work in freshman year of college; ETHS’s proposed standard is whether a student will “persist” into second year. Second, in calculating its 50% number, the ACT does not include students who score at and above the benchmark score. Rather, the ACT’s percentage is based on the probability that a student who scored at the benchmark score (not at or above) would obtain a B in freshman year college.

We think the focus should be on the percentage of students who just meet the proposed criteria. What percent of those students persisted into second year? This data is essential to evaluate the placement of the proposed criteria, particularly because of the bifurcated nature of student achievement, by race, at ETHS, and also because in the last few years, the number of students taking AP courses has been increasing.  

Aside from methodological issues, though, we think the criteria should be linked to whether students are prepared to do B level work in a four-year college, rather than just “persist” into a second year of a four- or two-year college. ETHS administrators told the RoundTable that they do not have students’ college grades, and thus they thus are not able to develop criteria tailored to ETHS students that are linked to obtaining a B in college. This is a fatal flaw in the whole process.

 This makes it essential to use SAT scores that are linked to doing B level work in college as one of the criteria for college readiness at ETHS. Using a standardized test is also important because it is an external test, not based on subjective grading practices at ETHS. Further, it enables administrators, teachers, the Board, parents and the community to see how our students stack up against other students in the nation. It should be incorporated into the Board’s goals.

In summary, we think setting a standard of success for our children at “persisting into second year of college” is a very low standard, that it sets very low expectations for our youth, and we encourage the Board to reject it. We urge the Board to adopt criteria linked to preparing students to do B level work in college, and we stand by our March 11 editorial.  

There is a lot of talk about equity at ETHS. There is no equity with low expectations.