By Kelley Elwood

Evanston Township High School will not add any new courses for the 2018-19 year but will go through a comprehensive curriculum review process to determine course recommendations for the future. Changes to be considered include coursework to strengthen students’ lagging algebra skills. 

Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Curriculum, proposed course changes to the District 202 Board at their Nov. 13 meeting. For next year, staff is recommending no course additions, 10 class revisions, and one deletion. 

The 3 English 1 course is being considered for deletion because it “no longer aligns with our course sequence,” said Dr. Bavis in his report to the Board.

Many of the course revisions are title or prerequisite changes to “clarify course sequences and pathways” while other revisions are recommended to “broaden student participation, and increase access to honors courses.” 

The report highlighted the “Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Introduction to Engineering Design” course for self-identified female students as a “great success” and therefore ETHS is proposing a parallel change in the “Introduction to Computer Programming Course” to increase female participation within computer science courses.

 Revisions are also being proposed to Geometry to create a pathway to honors.

Geometry, and an “Algebra Issue”

The proposal to revise the Geometry course says, “This will create a pathway to honors credit for students enrolled in Geometry similar to what we have done for Geometry in Construction.”

In explaining the reason for the revision, Dr. Bavis said, “We need a Geometry course infused with Algebra … When (we) examined the SAT scores, it surfaced that only 23% of students or 178 out 756 met or exceeded standards for heart of Algebra sub scores” which test pre-Algebra skills, Algebra 1 and some Algebra 2.

“We have an Algebra issue,” he said. 

“We could have everyone take Algebra again but instead we are going to continue to develop curriculum and provide two or three opportunities to develop those skills.” The administration is “going to work with teachers, analyze data, and remedy that.”

“Did we just discover an Algebra issue or has it always been there?” asked Board Member Gretchen Livingston. 

“We’ve never given the SAT before so we never had data laid out like this for us,” said Dr. Bavis. “Also in visiting classrooms, especially freshmen classes, we are seeing differences in algebraic abilities. This is something we are in tune to now because we have hard data, and something we are going to work on with our partners at District 65. We are going to work on an end-of-course test for students so we’ll have data on that as well. What we don’t want to do is have all freshmen come in and take Algebra over again, so we are making adjustments being responsive to the need.”

Ms. Livingston asked what other school districts are doing with Algebra. “They are all over,” said Dr. Bavis. “Some start with Algebra in 9th grade. There are different ways to get to the goal post.”

There are not many freshmen in 1 Algebra, said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon; most come to ETHS having completed it. “What we realize is that algebraic thinking is the most important mathematical thinking we teach. We will continue to go on the factor that they come to us having taken Algebra 1, but by putting it as a component in geometry, which is mainly freshmen, we are going to be able to operationalize algebraic thinking.”

Board member Jonathan Baum raised a related issue. He said he often hears from parents, “There’s Geometry Honors and then there’s Geometry. And there’s a huge gulf, and there’s no room in the middle, and if I understand the proposal correctly, it is in part a response to that and I think that is shown by the fact it doesn’t displace Geometry Honors, so that Geometry Honors remains. I think that most parents have discovered that the Geometry Honors is not Geometry with an “H” at the end. Geometry Honors is an entirely different course for Geometry. But it doesn’t mean it needs to be at a low level. I think this is an attempt to be responsive to those concerns about the vast gulf that has existed between Geometry Honors and Geometry?”

“Yes,” replied Dr. Bavis. “And we also can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s a lot of students in Geometry Honors who struggle, have algebra issues …”

The accompanying sidebar gives Dr. Bavis’s explanation of the various levels of Geometry.

What About Hebrew Classes?

During comments from the public, several speakers talked about the District’s decision to no longer offer Hebrew courses. “If you build it they will come,” said one speaker. “Hebrew will not be the most popular class, but it is important for ETHS to offer it.” He said that the school should try to keep the program alive, saying that there are adults willing to help. Other speakers suggested there are teachers available. A speaker talked of the historic value of teaching Hebrew as the “language that helped shape western civilization.” A student at Chicago Jewish Day School who plans to transfer to ETHS said it’s “crucial at this juncture” when anti-Semitism has increased to “take steps to protect Jewish students.” 

There are currently 34 students in two sections of Hebrew. The current teacher will not be able to teach at ETHS next year and the District has not had success finding certified teachers for the part-time schedule, said Dr. Bavis. The “program is not sustainable,” said Dr. Bavis. Enrollment has dropped, and the school is committed to working with those currently enrolled on online options to complete the language course sequence. 

Board Member Jonathan Baum asked if a teacher could be found, would the course remain. Dr. Bavis said at the current numbers, the class is not sustainable. Mr. Baum suggested that uncertainty about the future of the program led to the declining numbers.

Curriculum Review

ETHS currently offers more than 250 courses. In the past four years, the school has added 36 new courses and revised 86 courses. The curriculum review will look at data points and incorporate student feedback, said Dr. Bavis.  The process will gather “broader input for moving forward.”

“It is essential that our curriculum remain up-to-date, drive student learning, and above all reflect our commitment to equity and excellence. Therefore, later this school year we will begin a comprehensive curriculum review process. The purpose of these reviews is to provide an in-depth analysis for each department. This process will include a core department-specific team and a district-level team. What is unique about our curriculum review process is that it will include student voice as a critical driver of the process.”  

Final Decision in December

Dr. Bavis detailed the RAPID process used to propose course changes. Recommend: Teachers with department chair(s) develop an initial recommendation. The department chair endorses the course proposal. Agree: Department Chairs and the Associate Principal of Instruction and Literacy review new course proposals to provide a school-wide perspective and consider broader fiscal impact. The Chief Financial Officer reviews new course proposals for financial implications. The Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction signs off in agreement to move the course proposal forward to the Board of Education. Perform: If approved by the Board of Education, teachers with the department chair develop the curriculum and assessments. Input: Curriculum Forum, teachers, department chairs, and administrators provide input. Decide: The Board of Education votes on the proposal.

The final course proposal will be voted on at the Board’s Dec. 11 meeting.

The Various Levels of Geometry

The RoundTable asked Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis several questions about the levels of Geometry (e.g., Geometry Regular and Geometry Honors) that are being proposed for next year. The questions and Dr. Bavis’s answers are as follows:

Question: The Proposed Course Change/Deletion Form for Geometry says the Type of Change is “Level Change to R/H.” Does this mean there will be two separate courses offered to freshman–Geometry R/H and Geometry Honors? 

Answer: Every Geometry student will have the opportunity to earn honors credit in Geometry. Specific classes will be determined through our yearly placement and sectioning process.

Question: Will the curriculum for Geometry R/H, Geometry Honors for 9th graders, and Geometry Honors for 8th graders all be the same?  If not, what are the differences?  

Answer: Geometry Honors for 9th grade and Geometry Regular for 9th grade are currently using our new curriculum approved by the School Board during the course revision process during the 2016-2017 school year. We will be using this same curriculum next year.

Advanced Geometry Honors for 8th grade uses the previous curriculum.

Our mixed-level Geometry in Construction class uses the previous curriculum adapted for the unique aspects of the class.

Our new curriculum does not rely as heavily on the two-column proof format, but rather uses a broader take on argument. The new curriculum is aligned to the Common Core Content Standards, the Common Core Process Standards, 21st Century Skills, AP Calculus & Statistics, SAT, and the ETHS math course pathway. The curriculum focuses on Algebra, Coordinate Geometry, Transformation, and Argument & Visuals.

Question: Will the Geometry R/H course be an earned honors course? 

Answer: We have not yet determined the exact honors challenge for the course yet, but honors credit will be earned in the course through performance on assessments.