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On Sept. 13, the Joint District 65/202 School Board Committee concurred on an agenda for the joint school board meeting scheduled for Oct. 29.  The agenda will include an update on a project that will define what constitutes college success, an update on what the Districts are doing towards equity, reports on progress in meeting the joint literacy goal, and what the Districts are doing together to prepare students for advanced placement courses at ETHS.

Paul Goren, Superintendent of District 65, proposed two topics for the joint Board meeting. First, that the Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA) provide an update on its project to identify multiple measures that can be used to assess whether students are on track to succeed in college. Success is defined as persistence in college for five consecutive semesters, which is being used as a proxy for college graduation.

The measures may include such things as grades, courses taken, and attendance rates. The plan is to determine multiple measures for students in all grade levels.

NEERA is a partnership between School Districts 65 and 202 and Northwestern University.

Second, Dr. Goren suggested that each District provide an update on its equity work.

Eric Witherspoon, Superintendent of District 202, suggested a third agenda item. “We might want to do an update on the reading goal.” The Boards adopted a joint reading goal in January 2014 to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”

Dr. Witherspoon said they could ask if NEERA has identified multiple measures specific to the reading goal, and if not, the Districts could each bring data to show progress toward meeting that goal. He added, “We get STAR pre- and post-tests for every student, every year to show what the status is.”

The STAR test is a computer adaptive test that takes about 15 minutes.

Stacy Beardsley, District 65 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said District 65 could present its students’ results on the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

Jonathan Baum, a District 202 Board member, suggested a fourth topic for the agenda which sparked discussion. He said, “There’s a lively conversation on ETHS’ parents’ Facebook page – initiated by an African American father who is talking about the low number of students of color in AP courses. His take is that there needs to be more of a pipeline between District 65 and District 202, and he talked more in terms of an athletic analogy – a farm team and the majors. He has the perception there is not enough collaboration between the two districts to advance kids and to have an eye on their ultimately  being in advanced courses, beginning in elementary and middle schools.”

Mr. Baum added he knew the Districts were already collaborating on this, and suggested that the Districts make a presentation “on how leadership and teachers are working together in the two school districts to create that pipeline, to build that initial basis for going into high school on a track toward advanced honors.”

The purpose of the presentation, he said, would be to educate the community.

Joseph Hailpern, a District 65 Board member, said, “We could spotlight a year ago we de-tracked seventh and eighth grade math courses as a step.”

Dr. Goren said District 65 has been questioning, “Are we removing structures that are keeping kids back, rather than having kids have access to high school mathematics.”

Pete Bavis, District 202 Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said he thought providing information on what the Districts are doing together to prepare kids to take advanced courses in high school is a “great idea.” He added, “I would encourage us to look at some numbers to frame the conversation – really look at what percentage of African American students are actually enrolled in AP courses, historically how that’s moved, and what the work was to get them there and what the work is going forward.”

Mark Metz, a District 202 Board member, said, “If our objective is to help people understand this process, it’s real easy to get lost in the weeds in this topic if we have too much data. … We don’t want to go too deep because people just get lost.”

Mr. Baum said, “Look at the concrete – what books students are reading in the middle school to better prepare them to read the books they’re going to read in high school.”

Pat Savage-Williams, President of the District 202 Board, said, “The conversation about the number of students in AP classes, the number of African American students in AP classes is a very good, important, worthwhile discussion. I’m not sure if this is when we want it.” She suggested telling people how they can access the information.

Mr. Hailpern added a new dimension: “Maybe AP courses are a gatekeeper for white students to take courses together, just like tracked courses in the middle school and do the same thing.”

Mr. Baum said the perception of the man who raised the issue on the ETHS parents’ Facebook page “was not pointing to specific inequities in either District, he was talking about what they perceive is a systems failure to have systems flow from District 65 to 202 that can get students into advanced placement courses.”

Dr. Witherspoon said, “One thing I could throw in is, what are we doing to change the narrative? … The narrative in the community has been that AP courses are for White kids and the narrative in the community was that there really wasn’t a place for most kids of color in AP classes. If we could talk about how we’re starting early and throughout the child’s experience to change the narrative, so our students understand their own assets, and their own capabilities and their own potential and they all know that they all belong in these advanced classes, that they all can and that they ought to be taking advantage of these opportunities.

 “So however we look at it, I’d really love for us to talk about how we’re addressing the community, the parental, and the student narrative to get different options.”

Mr. Baum said, “In the humanities courses which were never tracked in District 65, I think there still is a concern.” He asked, “How is everybody being viewed as a potential AP student” in those courses.

Dr. Goren said the level of writing and the level of analysis in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades is preparing students for high school. “We can make that statement.”

Dr. Witherspoon said it was important to reshape “the minds of White kids as well as kids of color.” He said a black male student enrolled in a chem-phys program at ETHS a few years ago, and a White student turned to the black student and said “What are you doing in this class?” The “narrative isn’t just a narrative of kids of color, but a narrative of kids,” Dr. Witherspoon said.

 “I hear stories like that all of the time,” said Ms. Savage Williams. I think it’s very important to think about when we talk about changing the narrative that we’re talking about the narrative of the entire community, not just students and families of color. We’re talking about everybody”

Dr. Goren said he would draft the language of the fourth topic to be on the agenda for the joint Board meeting in October and send it around for the committee to review.

Measuring College Success

Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA) is attempting to identify multiple measures that can be used to assess whether students, K-12, are on track to succeed in college. Success is defined as persistence in college for five consecutive semesters, which is being used as a proxy for college graduation.

NEERA said it has decided to use persistence to a fifth semester in any four-year college, including Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 colleges, as “college persistence.” In addition, if a student obtains an associate’s degree or a certification from a two-year college, that will be counted as college persistence.

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).

The RoundTable has argued in a series of editorials (posted online on Sept. 21, 2016, Nov. 2, 2016, April 19, 2017, and May 30, 2018) that NEERA’s definition of college success sets low expectations for our students. 


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...