On May 21, the Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA), a partnership between School Districts 65 and 202 and Northwestern University, laid out its plan on how  to define college success and to identify characteristics of students who are on track to meeting their definition of college success, starting at eighth and ninth grades and then expanding to both higher and lower grade levels. (See story in Schools section.)

NEERA has defined college success as persisting to five consecutive semesters in a four-year college, including a Tier I, Tier II, or Tier III college. In addition, NEERA counts obtaining an associate’s degree or a certificate at a two-year college as college success. (The college tiers are described in the same story.)

We are concerned that NEERA’s definition of college success sets low expectations for our students. We have argued this in editorials posted online on Sept. 21, 2016, Nov. 2, 2016, and April 19, 2017.

First, NEERA is backmapping from ETHS graduates who have met its definition of college success to identify  multiple characteristics (e.g., grades, attendance rates, course selection, standardized test scores, etc.) that predict success. Districts 65 and 202 will then use those characteristics to determine whether students in Districts 65 and 202 are on track to college success.

Because under NEERA’s model, the characteristics are backmapped from students who have persisted to five semesters in any four-year college, or who complete a two-year program, the characteristics will be influenced by students who persist at Tier III colleges and two-year community colleges, which ETHS has defined as being “less competitive or non-competitive” colleges.

By including all three tiers of four-year colleges as  well as two-year colleges in the mix, NEERA will not be identifying the characteristics needed to gain admittance to and persist in Tier 1 or Tier 2 colleges, which ETHS has defined to include “most competitive,“ “highly competitive,” “very competitive,” and “competitive” colleges.

For example, NEERA’s model is not designed to identify the characteristics needed to gain admittance to and persist in colleges such as  Northern Illinois (a “competitive” Tier II college), Northeastern Illinois University (a “competitive” Tier II college), DePaul University (a “very competitive” Tier I College), and University of Illinois at Chicago (a “very competitive” Tier I college).

We appreciate the comment made by a NEERA spokeswoman on May 21 that NEERA has discussed identifying the characteristics needed to be on track to persisting in Tier I and Tier II colleges, but there is not yet a commitment to do so.

Our second concern is that students may generally advance from one semester to the next in college, if they have a GPA of 2.0 or higher or are on probation. As such, students may persist to a fifth semester in college (the definition of college success) if they do C level work.

Under the model, the definition of college success includes students who are performing C level work in college, and they are lumped together with students performing at A and B levels in identifying the multiple characteristics that will be used to predict success.

This too results in setting low expectations – 77% of the grades given in college are As and Bs, and the average college GPA in 2013 was 3.15, according to a recent study.

The definition of college success is critically important, particularly because it will set District 65’s and 202’s and this community’s expectations and goals for our students stretching from pre-K through high school.

The multiple characteristics identified by NEERA will be used to measure how well School Districts 65 and 202 are educating our students and whether and to what extent there is an achievement gap; they will be used to assess whether there is equity; they will be used to identify students who are not on track and who need interventions and supports; they may be used to shape the curriculum and instruction; and they will set the Board’s expectations for administrators. 

We urge the School Boards to set a higher expectation for all of our students, and to define college success, at the very least, as gaining admittance to and persisting to a fifth semester in a  very competitive Tier 1 college or a Tier 2 college.

If a student chooses another path, at least they will have the opportunity to make a choice, and it will not be because our School Districts did not prepare them.