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At the District 65 School Board meeting on June 5, administrators of School District 65 presented their recommendation to eliminate tracking of students in algebra classes at Chute, Haven and Nichols middle schools, and to do so on a phased in basis. Matsuo Marti, Director of STEM at the District, presented the recommendation, together with a report.

Combining Algebra 1 and Algebra 8

Mr. Marti said the District currently offers multiple pathways for students in math. Students on the Algebra pathway complete Algebra when they graduate from District 65, putting them on a path to take at least one Advanced Placement math course at Evanston Township High School. Students on a Geometry pathway complete Geometry when they graduate from District 65, putting them on a path to take two AP math courses at ETHS.

The Algebra and Geometry pathways serve 98% of the students in the District. The proposal to end tracking does not impact the pathways, but would combine Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 classes at the middle schools, said Mr. Marti.

Currently, the District offers Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 in the middle schools. Algebra 1 is offered to students based on their performance on the Spring MAP test in math and the District 65 math placement assessment. Historically it has been regarded as an honors course and at one time it offered a more rigorous curriculum than Algebra 8.

Data shows that 90% of the students taking Algebra 1 are in the fourth quartile nationally (the top 25% of students in the nation), and the remaining 10% are in the third quartile (falling between the 50th and 74th percentiles). Thirteen percent of the students taking Algebra 8 are in the fourth quartile nationally, and 41% are in the third quartile.

In 2012-13, the District initiated an algebra pilot in the magnet schools, Bessie Rhodes and King Arts (the Algebra Pilot). In the pilot, Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 were combined into a single Algebra course, and students at all levels are placed in the same class, regardless of math achievement.

In 2014, the District started to use the same textbook, CMP3, for all the Algebra courses. The Algebra 1 and Algebra Pilot curricula, however, included two CMP3 units that were not included in the Algebra 8 curriculum.

Starting in 2015-16, “all three Algebra courses [Algebra 1, Algebra 8, and the Algebra Pilot] adopted the same scope and sequence, which defines the intended learning outcomes for the courses,” said Mr. Marti. “Using the same scope and sequence establishes the expectation that all Algebra students received the same high quality Algebra curriculum.”

Several middle school teachers who teach both Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 said the text books and the pace are now the same for both courses.


The report says that the racial make-up of District 65 is 44% white, 24% black, 19% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 9% multi-racial.

“The racial makeup of Algebra 8 and Algebra 1 are vastly different and not proportional to the District averages,” said Mr. Marti.

The table below shows the percentage of students, by race, attending District 65, and who were enrolled in Algebra 1, in Algebra 8, and in the Algebra Pilot.

        % D65 Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity

                      White   Black   Hispanic   Multi

District 65          44        24        29           9 

Algebra 1           69         8        12           7

Algebra 8           30        35       26           6    

Alg. Pilot           30         42       12           9

The report says that there is disproportionality by household income as well. Thirty-eight percent of the District’s students are low-income. Fourteen percent of students taking Algebra 1 are from low-income households, compared to 58% taking Algebra 8, and 50% taking the Algebra Pilot.   

Paula Zelinski, president of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union), added that due to scheduling issues, the disproportionality created by tracking in Algebra ends up creating disproportionality in other subjects, such as social studies, science, and language arts.

Student Achievement

Mr. Marti presented data intended to show how the Algebra Pilot, Algebra 1, and Algebra 8 impacted student achievement. The District did this by measuring a) how much each student grew academically in math in seventh grade, and b) how much each student grew academically in eighth grade when they took the Algebra Pilot, Algebra 1, or Algebra 8. The District used a measure of growth called the Conditional Growth Percentile (CGP), which is “a student’s percentile rank for growth.

“A CGP of 50% indicates a student’s growth exactly matched the expected gains and that his or her growth exceeded that of 49% of students nationally,” says the report. “A CGP of more than 50% indicates a student’s growth exceeded expectations and a CGP of less than 50% suggests the student’s growth was below expectations.”

As an example, if a student has a CGP of 62%, the student grew more than 61% of the students in the nation, said Mr. Marti.

After determining the CGP for each student, the District determined the “average CGP” for the group of students taking Algebra 1, Algebra 8, and the Algebra Pilot for seventh- and eighth-graders. The chart below provides that data.

The chart also illustrates that the average CGP was 62% for eighth graders who took Algebra 1, 57% for eighth-graders in Algebra 8, and 63% for students in the Algebra Pilot. The average CGP’s are all higher than the expected rate of 50%.

The chart shows that the students who took either Algebra 8 or the Algebra Pilot showed a higher average growth rate in eighth grade than in seventh grade. In other words, their growth trajectory, on average, increased in eighth grade when they took Algebra 8 or the Algebra Pilot. In contrast, the data shows that the growth trajectory, on average, declined slightly for students who took Algebra 1.

The report also breaks out the data showing the average CGP for students taking Algebra 1, Algebra 8, or the Algebra Pilot, based on the quartile the students placed in at the end of seventh grade. The data shows:

  • Students in the bottom two quartiles (Q1 and Q2) who took Algebra 8 and the Algebra Pilot made large increases in their average CGP between 7th and 8th grades. At 8th grade, students in the bottom two quartiles had average CGP above the national average in both Algebra 8 and the Algebra Pilot.  (No students who took Algebra 1 were in the bottom two quartiles).
  • Students in the third quartile (Q3) who took Algebra 1 showed the largest increase in growth rates between 7th and 8th grades (38 percentile points), and showed the highest growth rate in 8th grade.
  • Students in the top quartile (Q4) who took Algebra 8 and Algebra 1 showed declines in their average CGP between 7th and 8th grades.

D65 Average CGP for Groups Indicated

Algebra 1                    Q1    Q2    Q3    Q4

7th Gr. Avg. CGP            n/a  n/a   36    69

8th Gr. Avg. CGP            n/a  n/a   74    61

Algebra 8                     Q1    Q2    Q3    Q4

7th Gr. Avg. CGP            30    44   52    64 

8th Gr. Avg. CGP            62    57   57    48

Algebra Pilot               Q1    Q2    Q3    Q4

7th Gr. Avg. CGP            34     43    43    63  

8th Gr. Avg. CGP            64    55    67    64  

The report also contains data showing that the percent of students who scored in the bottom quartile decreased from 21% in seventh grade to 14% in eighth grade for Algebra 8 (or by 7 points) and from 13% to 8% (or by 5 points) for the Algebra Pilot. 

Overall, students in the bottom two quartiles have done about the same in Algebra 8 as they have done in the Algebra Pilot, even though the average class sizes of the pilot are lower.

Some Considerations About the Data

The RoundTable asked administrators several questions about the data.

First, the District uses the MAP math test to assess eighth-graders’ knowledge of Algebra and their growth. The RoundTable asked District administrators if the MAP math test assesses student’s knowledge in Algebra, and if there is a better MAP test to assess Algebra. 

Peter Godard, the District’s Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment, responded, “The MAP assessment tests algebra knowledge as well as knowledge in additional strands of math knowledge and skill aligned with common core standards. There is a score that specifically measures Algebra knowledge, but we did not use that in this analysis for two reasons. First, the range of statistics and norms available for that subtest are not as broad as the overall math score. Second, that subscore is based on fewer questions and is therefore less reliable for measuring growth than the overall math score.”

The MAP math test that is being used to evaluate Algebra 1, Algebra 8, and the Algebra Pilot is not specifically designed to test knowledge of Algebra, even though the pilot was begun in school year 2012-13.

Second, the above chart and table reflect “averages” of student CGP’s to get a group CGP. Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, says, “[Y]ou should not average the CGP to get the CGP of a group,” because “students in the same percentile can have different growth, and the difference in growth between two adjacent percentiles can be different depending on whether the percentiles are towards the middle (50) or the extremes (1 or 99).”

NWEA gives examples where averaging of CGP’s yielded erroneous percentile ranks that were off the mark by 12 and 22 percentile ranks, and concludes, “So we can see how averaging the CGP masks and flattens the difference between and within percentile ranks.”

When asked about this, Mr. Godard told the RoundTable, “We have chosen to present the conditional growth percentiles [CGP] despite this limitation because it is much easier for readers of the report to understand. We replicated that the analysis is correct by looking at percent of students making expected gains, median conditional growth index, and average conditional growth index. All three methods confirm the results in the memo in that they show similar results in terms of cross-algebra-class comparison.”

Third, the data presented does not include students who were accelerated and who took Algebra in seventh grade, which would comprise many of the highest performing students. These students would likely have been placed in Algebra 1, and it is unclear whether the results for Algebra 1 would have been different had this group of students been included in the mix. Mr. Godard told the RoundTable, “The data in the report exclude all students taking math above their grade level because the purpose of the analysis is to compare 8th graders taking the course.”

Fourth, in June 2013, Board members noted that the Algebra Pilot had lower class sizes than Algebra 1 and Algebra, which gave the Algebra Pilot an advantage. Mr. Godard told the RoundTable that the average class size of the Algebra Pilot is 19.3 students; the report indicates that the average class size of Algebra 1 is about 23.5 students, and for Algebra 8, about 23 students.

If Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 are combined in the middles schools and a support Algebra class created, the District estimates that next year the average class sizes would be 24.4 at Chute, 26 at Haven, and 28.8 at Nichols.

Non-Academic Issues

The report also considers non-academic impacts on a student. “While a common strategy, one unintended consequence of tracking is the perpetuation of class inequalities and segregation by placing a disproportionate number of students with low socioeconomic status and students of color in lower-ability groups,” says the report. “This disproportionate number of students with low socioeconomic status and students of color in lower-ability groups can be seen within District 65’s Algebra 8 class.

“The perpetuation of segregation and its connection to lower-ability groups can foster racial stereotypes about intelligence and academics,” and it can impact students “self-identity,” and “students in a lower track may start to self-label themselves as inferior to upper-track students.”

Several middle school teachers gave examples of the negative impact tracking had on their students.

The report also cites research “that tracking does not greatly improve academic achievement as intended,” and “many researchers proclaim that any possible advantages of tracking are offset by the negative consequences.”

Algebra Support Course/Professional Development

According to the report says, “Schools that have successfully de-tracked classes have done so carefully; they allocated considerable resources to low-ability students, including time and professional development for their teachers, with strong principal leadership and support from teachers.”

Administrators recommend that the District offer a support class to students whose spring grade 7 math MAP scores indicate a high likelihood of repeating Algebra at ETHS. The course would be offered in addition to the Algebra course, and include teaching a mathematical mindset, developing math practices and strategies, interventions to strengthen foundational gaps, peer tutoring (AVID), and a focus on executive function.

Students that enroll in the Algebra Support course would not be eligible to take one of their typical 8th grade courses, most likely foreign language. This would impact their course selection as freshman at ETHS.

The District also proposes to provide professional development, which would include Beyond Diversity/SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) equity training for Algebra teachers, as well as other training. The Beyond Diversity training uses materials prepared by the Pacific Education Group (PEG).

Requests for Additional Data

Board member Candance Chow said the original articulated goal of the Algebr Pilot five years ago was to increase the percentage of students who were able to take Geometry after they took Algebra in District 65. She said that the report did not show how many students who took the Algebra Pilot were being placed in Geometry or above at ETHS, compared to students who took Algebra 1 or Algebra 8. 

Ms. Chow noted that the report showed progress since the last report presented to the Board, which showed that students who took Algebra 8 were more likely to move out of the bottom quartile than those who took the Algebra Pilot. She also noted that the data showed that the percentage of students retaking Algebra at ETHS had dropped from 30% several years ago to 13%, both of which she said were positive developments.

She said, though, that she wanted “to have fidelity to what we committed to,” and asked for the placement data at ETHS.

Board member Lindsay Cohen also asked for the placement data at ETHS, saying, “I would like to make sure that kids in the Algebra Pilot are not repeating Algebra at a higher rate than kids in Algebra 8 or Algebra 1.” She added, “I feel like the data I’ve been presented does not present the entire full picture.”

Ms. Cohen added, “I don’t feel like the solution to math is we should be going from having three tracks to two. I feel like the solution is going from three tracks to 800, every child should be able to learn math at their own pace and not be held back and not be marginalized in any shape or form. I would like to see some vision from the District to getting to that path – to individualized math learning.”

In June 2013, Board members asked for longitudinal data not only about placement in freshman year at ETHS, but also showing how students did in algebra, geometry and more advanced math classes at ETHS. The report does not provide this information.  While it is unclear which freshman students took the 2016 PARCC math test at ETHS, ISBE’s report card shows that 90% of black students, and 92% of low-income students scored in the bottom two of five categories of student achievement.

When asked why the District did not present placement data, Mr. Godard said he had asked ETHS for the data and, “It hasn’t been their top priority.”

Board President Suni Kartha said that placement data for next year shows that 82% of D65 graduates will be placed into Geometry or higher at ETHS. While the data does not parse out how students in the Algebra Pilot will be placed versus other students, she said, “I think we can say that the vast majority are succeeding and are getting placed into Geometry or higher.”

Board member Joseph Hailpern said some algebra classes are predominantly white and some are predominantly black. “But the classes are the same. Why would we maintain that?”

“Some of these classes are designed to have additional supports,” said Ms. Chow. I’m concerned more about students in the lower quartile. … If you’re going to have a class now for students in the lower quartile – what’s the likelihood of their repeating Algebra?”

Board member Anya Tanyavutti said, “I want to consider not just the outcome in the high school, but I want to talk about the lived experience of children and the folks who are charged to educate and care for them in the middle schools …

“We have a large issue in the fact that we are telling students that some students are less capable than others. We’re also telling some students that they have nothing to learn, that they are the best. I don’t believe that’s the message … we want to send.”

“I think the worst case scenario would be having kids still repeating Algebra at the same level at ETHS,” said Ms. Chow. “I would feel much more comfortable having data that shows us what is the placement for students in the Algebra Pilot. We do have five years of data. It should not be difficult to provide.”

The Support Class

Ms. Cohen noted that while the proposal was to eliminate tracking, the Algebra support class would set up a tracked class.

Tiffany Chapman, a math teacher at Haven, said Haven currently had one support class in eighth grade and one in seventh. “We are interested in pushing it into all of the classes. We definitely see a need for it, but it boils down to finances and resources.”

Stacy Beardsley, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction,  said the District has built in some additional intervention time in fourth and fifth grades, and they are continuing to work in grades k-5. “There are many things that are happening within the STEM department that are focused on math.”

Andy Bezaitis, a parent, said, “The issue is coming into Algebra, students don’t have the same achievement and the same level. You guys are addressing a problem that should be addressed earlier in third grade, in second grade, in first grade.”

“I agree with you sir,” said Board member Sergio Hernandez. “We need to start earlier. I am an advocate for looking at a pre-K through third grade alignment, and of starting this for STEM.”

Board members have been urging administrators since before the Algebra Pilot was implemented to focus on the early years.

Phased-in Approach

Administrators recommended that the proposal to de-track Algebra be implemented at one middle school next year, and at the other two in 2018-19.

Ms. Beardsley said, “We want to make sure when we make a commitment to doing something, we do it well and it benefits all kids. Going with one school next year allows us to launch very successfully and then set it up for the following year.”

Ms. Kartha said, “It seems to me that there’s really no reason to phase this in. We should look to expanding this Districtwide.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Price suggested that the Board consider the issue further at its meeting on June 12. At that meeting it is anticipated the Board will decide whether to eliminate tracking and to approve a support class, and whether to phase in the proposal or to implement it in all middle schools. Administrators may attempt to provide additional placement data at ETHS.

Ms. Chow also asked how the change will be communicated to parents. Many students have already received placement letters indicating they have been placed in Algebra 1 or Algebra 8 for next year.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...