Continuing its efforts to monitor, analyze, and improve the academic achievement of all students in District 65 and District 202, the two Boards at their joint meeting on Oct. 24 discussed the Joint Superintendents’ Report. This year’s report looked at students entering Evanston Township High School with scores below the 40th percentile on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) reading assessment.  

The multi-part question put to District 65’s Peter Godard and District 202’s Carrie Levy and their teams was “What is the academic and non-academic history of students entering high school below the 40th percentile on the MAP reading assessment, what courses do they take in high school, and what are their academic outcomes in high school and beyond?” Mr. Godard is the Chief Officer of Research, Accountability and Data at District 65; Dr. Levy is the District 202 Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment at District 202.

Even though in the past few years there has been some cross-district finger-pointing about the education of these struggling students, the superintendents’ Joint Achievement Report concluded, “With only 2% of the sample group (55 students out of 2834) not earning 12 credits in 9th grade [enough to be promoted to sophomore year], District 65 is doing an outstanding job of preparing students for the rigors of high school and District 202 is doing an outstanding job of supporting them during their freshman year.”

The teams analyzed academic and non-academic data for about 2,834 students who graduated from eighth grade at District 65 in for four years, from the 2011-12 school year through the 2014-15 school year.

District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren said, “We’re going to take a deep dive into this report and really look at our children who are striving and learning: what their trajectory is as they go into the high school and what is it that we can learn from that to support our children in the middle-school grades and as they land in the high school.

“There are some ‘aha’ moments, such as middle-school grade-point average GPA, that we should be paying even closer attention to. And there are other bits of the data that give us an action agenda.”

District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said, “I think this focus on our striving students, where our two Districts are still falling short [is positive].”

Data on Striving Students

Mr. Godard and Dr. Levy presented data from the Joint Superintendents’ report.

Of the 2,834 District 65 students, 467, or 16%, scored below the 40th percentile on the MAP reading assessment in eighth grade. 

Within that group of 467 students, 75%, or 350 students, enrolled in District 202 (Evanston Township High School) and completed a full year, and a majority of them – 84% – successfully completed their freshman year by earning 12 or more credits.  

Most of the remaining 55 students – the 16% – who attended ETHS for the year but did not earn 12 credits were students who did not have an individualized education program (IEP) or were not English-learners in eighth grades. “This means that they did not have access to these formal support structures,” the report states. Most had a grade-point average (GPA) below 2.0 in middle school and a MAP score between the 26th and 39th percentiles.

The remaining 117 students, or 25% of the 467, either attended ETHS for less than a full year or did not attend ETHS at all. Thirteen were placed into an off-campus setting and 14 attended ETHS for only part of the year.

Some key findings are illustrated in the charts below.

Eighth-Grade Demographic Data

As eighth-graders, the majority of the 467 struggling students, 404 students, or 87%, were from low-income households. More than half – 258 students – had an IEP or were English-learners, or both.  Of these same students, 266, or 57%, had a MAP reading score below the 25th percentile, and 106, 23%, had a GPA of less than 2.0 in middle school.  The majority of students scoring below the 40th percentile were black (271, or 58%) and Hispanic (141, or 30%).  

 Implications and Follow-up for Each District

John Price, Assistant Superintendent of Schools at District 65, and Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at District 202, presented “implications and next steps” for each of the School Districts.

“There is good news on two fronts,” said Mr. Price. “One is that the vast majority of students are poised for success in ninth grade. The other piece is the insight the report gives us to really take a deep look at middle school GPAs as a potential early-warning indicator for students who may have trouble when they get to the high school.”

Mr. Price also said the report raises “significant challenges that we need to take as implications for our work: The majority of students who leave District 65 reading below the 40th percentile are students of color.” He said the District would need to identify the supports provided to English-learners and to students with IEPs that appeared to help these students succeed in freshman year and to “replicate them for students who do not have either of these supports.”

The District will continue its work on “non-academic factors that may be impacting student success in their coursework in middle-school and high school,” Mr. Price said.

Dr. Bavis said he “wanted to pull back a minute and look at the achievement debt we owe to our students of color.” He described ongoing equity work at Evanston Township High School, such as the annual Black Male Summit and Black Female Summit, staff training in the Beyond Diversity and Seeking Education Equity and Diversity (SEED) programs, and the creation of Collaborative Active Research and Equity (CARE) teams.

There are only 14 students each year who graduate from eighth grade and enroll at ETHS who do not complete sufficient coursework in freshman year to continue to sophomore year, Dr. Bavis said, and ETHS plans to invest in them.

“They are all very important, particularly when you look at the demographic breakdown of our striving students – the students who do not earn sufficient credits to be promoted so sophomore year. We will identify them, be proactive and revitalize their academic trajectory,” Dr. Bavis said.

ETHS will do this by connecting identified students to summer enrichment and to the Academic Intervention Team; certifying that identified students participate in Individual Career and Academic Planning; and continuing to review and refine reading courses to meet the needs of identified students. Members of the Academic Intervention Team at ETHS serve as advocates to students, providing such supports as monitoring student progress, helping develop executive skills, and providing academic and motivational support.

“I think it’s a complete package – targeted support – and it’s what we need to do to ensure the success of not only the 14 students but all students who participate in our reading program [for students reading below the 40th percentile],” said Dr. Bavis.

Dr. Goren said District 65 has in place “lots of interventions that parallel what is going on at ETHS,” such as staff and teacher training and work on school climate.

Further Discussion

District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum said, “This is really important work. I am wondering if we’re understanding the magnitude of the problem. We’re taking about 14 students a year. I see the numbers – that 84% are completing the 12 credits in ninth grade, but it is hard for me to believe that represents ‘problem solved.’ I’m not questioning the numbers; I’m questioning the significance of the numbers. If we were only talking about 14 students a year, we would not see the massive gap we see in the ACT scores – and other things at ETHS – and in the academic performance of the remaining students.”

“I’m going to say ‘Yes,’” said Dr. Bavis. “It doesn’t do justice to the longer-term piece. [But] what we also know is that if we do this intentionally with 14 kids and provide them supports – we push into the reading class, we go where the students are – we’re not just addressing the 14 kids, we’re addressing all the students in that reading class.”

District 65 Board member Tracy Quattrocki questioned how well grades in District 65 predicted success at ETHS.

Mr. Godard said at District 65 “grades are based on assignments but not on standards. A MAP score alone is not going to tell us whether that student is going to be reading at the 40th percentile or not, but it’s a pretty good predictor.”

“What [support] does it take to make sure that the students who earn the 12 credits [at ETHS] earn the 12 credits?” asked District 202 Board President Pat Savage-Williams.

“We have a class called Reading and Math in the Social Context. That’s the class we recruit our striving readers for – and in recent years have waived summer-school tuition for it,” Dr. Bavis said.

“Do we know how many District 65 students reading below the 40th percentile we’re expecting next year?” asked District 202 Board member Monique Parsons.

“Based on the fall MAP test, 167 students are reading below the 40th percentile,” said Mr. Price.

“These numbers go down with the second [spring] round of testing,” said Dr. Goren. He also said that after the previous Joint Board meeting he asked all District 65 principals to identify students reading below the 25th percentile.

Saying that both Districts have made progress in reducing the number of suspensions, particularly of students of color, District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston suggested that the number of days a student was suspended – perhaps five or even one or two – be another early indicator that the student could use additional supports.

District 65 Board member Anya Tanyavutti asked to hear more about the non-academic supports for students reading below the 40th percentile.

Mr. Price said the District’s social workers and psychologists “work to address students’ non-academic needs every day in school.”  He also said the District is working on helping students develop their executive functions – such as time management and organizational skills – and on expanding the number of school climate teams.

District 202 Board member Mark Metz said, “This is about early intervention – identifying the student and getting them the right supports.”

District 202 Board member Doug Holt said, “Our take-away is that support matters.” He also asked whether there were income-based barriers.

ETHS Principal/Assistant Superintendent Marcus Campbell said the school “eliminated every financial barrier possible so kids can attend summer school.”

Mr. Baum said the report found that students with IEP supports seem to do better than those without such supports. “Our Academic Intervention Team (AIT) is essentially an IEP. I wonder if we can’t make it a goal to have every student have the functional equivalent of an IEP – see who qualifies for the AIT and extend that model as far down the grade levels as possible.”

“Absolutely,” said District 65 Board member Candance Chow. “We have to figure out the resources – because, practically, it makes all the sense in the world.”

The next Joint Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2017, at ETHS, 1600 Dodge Ave.