On Sept. 19, administrators at Evanston Township High School presented an update on their progress in developing a model to use in determining whether ETHS students are prepared for college, and in turn whether students in School District 65 are on track to college readiness. ETHS says it is working with District 65 and Northwestern University in developing the model. That is a positive development.  We also think ETHS has made some improvements to the model itself, but we still have a significant concern.

Last spring, ETHS proposed a model that deemed students would be “college ready” if they “persisted” to a second year of college. This was the chosen “outcome” defining college readiness, rather than, for example, doing B level work in freshman year of college. Under the model, ETHS then identified “multiple measures” that they said would predict whether ETHS students would persist to second year of college. The measures were a grade point average (GPA) of 2.6, a C- in Algebra, and a passing grade in an Advanced Placement or Project Lead the Way course

The RoundTable argued that these measures set low expectations. Among other things, students may persist to a second year of college if they have a 2.0 grade point average, or even if they are on probation. In addition, a report cited by ETHS in support of its earlier proposal says, “Degree completion is the true bottom line for college administrators, state legislators, parents, and most importantly, students – not retention to the second year, not persistence without a degree, but completion.” See “Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment,” published by the United States Department of Education.

That same study discarded using persistence to second year as an outcome, because there was a lack of data reflecting how many course credits students in fact have when they “persist” to a second year of college. The study says, “Without credit accumulation information, structural equations with ‘persistence’ as an outcome are very deceiving, and are apt to overstate the influence of affective factors as opposed to academic achievement. … Unlike ‘persistence,’ the completion of a bachelor’s degree is a censoring event, the culmination of years and preparation of academic achievement.”

Under its proposed new approach, ETHS plans to determine “the earliest postsecondary outcome that is highly predictive of ultimate graduation.” Thus, ETHS will determine whether completion of two semesters, three semesters, four semesters, or more is highly predictive of graduation; and then it will use the earliest of those that is “highly predictive” of graduation as its chosen “outcome.” ETHS will then determine the “multiple measures” that predict whether ETHS students will reach that outcome. ETHS says it plans to use the earliest post-secondary outcome so it can “use the most recent ETHS data possible” in determining the “multiple measures.”

While we think this new model represents a positive step over what was proposed in the spring, it falls short of using graduation from college as the outcome. When everything is said and done, ETHS will not be identifying “multiple measures” that predict college graduation, but it will be identifying “multiple measures” that predict persisting through “x” semesters of college.

And what does persistence mean in terms of academic performance? In many schools a student may persist from one semester to the next if he or she has an overall college grade point average of 2.0 or by having less than a 2.0 grade point average if he or she qualifies for academic probation.

ETHS is thus proposing to link its “multiple measures” to C level work, or less, which is the borderline between passing and failing. In this regard, it is significant that one recent study found that 77% of the grades given in four-year colleges are As and Bs.

We think we should set higher expectations for our children. We should expect our schools to prepare our children to do better.

We urge ETHS and District 65 to aim higher. We will be interested to see what ETHS and District 65 propose at the joint meeting of the Boards in October.

At that meeting, we urge ETHS to report the number and percentage of ETHS students, by race, who meet the “outcome” chosen by ETHS and District 65, and the number and percentage who graduate. We request this be reported separately for four-year colleges and two-year colleges.

ETHS should also report the number and percentage of ETHS students who just meet the chosen “outcome” (not meet or exceed) who go on to graduate from college. This data is essential to understand how the model takes into account and addresses the needs of lower-performing students.