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Like the School Report Card produced by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Student Achievement Report compiled by Evanston Township High School administrators lacked certain information about student learning in 2019-20.
While most schools, including ETHS, had prepared for “e-learning days” – which would likely occur because of foul weather – no district was prepared for the mid-semester switch from in-person to all-remote remote teaching.
At that time, ETHS, like many schools, placed less emphasis on grades and grading than on keeping students engaged.
The news this year, for the class of 2020, was only slightly better than it was last year. Even the displacement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, could not explain the persistent gap in achievement between white and Asian students, on the one hand, and Black and Brown students, on the other.
The report provided data about how the ETHS classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 measured against four indicators of college readiness endorsed by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act State Plan (IL ESSA).
In their presentation to the Board on Nov. 9, however, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Pete Bavis and Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment Carrie Levy focused on the class of 2020.
The class totals included students learning in the main building and the Alt School but not ETHS students who are learning in non-ETHS sites.
Demographics of the 838 students in the ETHS class of 2020 were as follows:-
- – Asian, female, 32 (4%)
- – Asian, male, 23 (3%)
- – Black/African American female, 126 (15%)
- – Black/African American male, 115 (14%)
- – Hispanic/Latina female, 69 (8%)
- – Hispanic/Latino male, 76 (9%)
- – White female, 184, (22%)
- – White male, 190, (23%)
Dr. Levy said the report is “a little strange this year. Some of the data is incomplete; we do have a cohort, though, of seniors who graduated. And that’s what we’re reporting on.”
The report provided data – broken out by gender, racial/ethnic subgroup, lunch status and IEP status – on the number and percentage of students meeting at least one of the four benchmarks of the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act: earning a cumulative un-weighted grade-point average (GPA) of 2.8, showing proficiency in math and English/language arts, and having a strong attendance record (see below for details of the benchmarks) It did not cover subgroups of fewer than 20 students.
The chart below shows students, by subgroup, meeting a) one or two or b) three or four of the benchmarks.
Un-weighted GPA: More students in the class of 2020, 72%, had an un-weighted GPA of 2.8, higher than in the two previous senior classes, which each had 65% of the students with a 2.8 GPA. The mean cumulative GPA for the Class of 2020 was 3.1.
The percentage of students earning an un-weighted GPA of 2.8 or higher ranged from 96% (white females) to 32% (Black/African American males), as shown in the chart below:
Proficiency in English/Language Arts: Again this year there was a significant gap between the number and percentages of white and Asian students, on the one hand, and Black and Brown students, on the other hand, meeting at least one of the IL ESSA indicators of proficiency in English/Language Arts. While 64% of the students overall met one or more indicators of proficiency in English/Language Arts, the difference by subgroup is stark.
Proficiency in Mathematics: Somewhat better were the percentages of students in each subgroup achieving proficiency in mathematics, with 78% of students meeting at least one of the indicators.
The chart below shows the breakdown of students meeting one or more criteria in ELA and math.
Attendance Rate: The attendance-rate benchmark is 95%. Students in the Class of 2020, whose fourth quarter was spent in remote learning had an average attendance rate of 92%.
Behavior Referrals: The percentage of students, by subgroup, having four or fewer behavior referrals throughout their high-school years.
- – Asian female, 100%
- – Asian male, 91%
- – Black/African American female, 77%
- – Black/African American male, 69%
- – Hispanic/Latina female, 88%
- – Hispanic/Latino male, 78%
- – White female, 98%
- – White male, 86%
- – Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, 73%
- – Students with an IEP, 63%
Other Collected Data:
- · Four out of five students (81%) in the Class of 2020 participated in at least one extracurricular activity in their junior or senior years of high school. This has been a steady increase over the prior three cohorts.
Dr. Levy said, “We looked at data from those that participated in one or more extracurricular activity. That, as you can see, has been tacking up nicely over the last four years.” In the class of 2020, 81% of the cohorts that participated in at least one extra-curricular activity in their junior or senior year – representing an increase over the prior cohorts and you see that across almost all of the subgroups, Dr. Levy said.
- · Overall, the four-year graduation rate in 2020 was 93%, and the five-year graduation rate in 2020 was 94%.
Dr. Levy said the previous class, 2019, had a 92% four-year graduation rate and 94% five-year graduation rate.
Board members expressed their disappointment with these results, which, they noted were continuing and “predictable.” In their comments, they questioned what additional things teachers could do and why there was not more concern in the community. They also suggested the Board work more closely with School District 65 and with the community.
… On Student Achievement
Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “What [the data] always tells me is that our Black/African American males continue to be our lowest group. We can see some progress and some improvement, but we still have work to do.”
She also said she was frustrated not only by the results reflected in the report but also by the way the information was presented.
“It feels like, well, there really is a lack of progress. And in some ways, there are even worse results. But what struck me – I just pulled up the report on student achievement from last year because I wanted a point of comparison – and what frustrates me about this report every year is that it gets delivered in isolation. And we don’t have a point of comparison for previous years that’s made easy for us to see and understand and relate to, or for a community to see and understand and relate to.”
She said last year the Board received information on whether students had met one, two, three or four of the college-readiness benchmarks, “and this year, we combined it into “three or four” and “one or two.” But when you add all that up together, we have exactly the same result. So that’s really, really upsetting.”
Board Vice President Monique Parsons agreed that it was “very upsetting” and added, “I don’t have to read the numbers. But I think it’s important to look at these numbers, year to year, and to understand how they relate to one another.” She also said she would like the data to be reported “in a way that’s digestible and easy to follow from year to year.”
To Board member Jude Law, the report presented a chicken-or-egg problem, “because I noticed that the group of students [with] the lowest academic achievement also are the students that have the lowest rate of attendance and the lowest rate of being involved in the school community – so that would be the Black young men. [I’m] not sure which is being caused by which. There’s no sense of belonging for these young men in the school, and that causes the poor attendance. And that causes them to feel like to not have a sense of belonging. So they don’t participate? Or is their lack of participation and attendance causing the low academic achievement?” he asked.
“We’ve talked about multiple factors that are likely contributing to these low achievement numbers. We’re talking about the community; we talked about joint literacy goals, talked about sense of belonging, social emotional learning. … But sometimes you have to take a look at what you’re doing and maybe change things up, because when you have such an alarming failure rate, especially coming from two particular groups, the Black and Latinx males, that’s alarming.
“What is going on in those [teaching] teams? … Are they looking at individuals who need shortened data cycles, like ‘We need to check in on this on this kid,’ and not let an F exist for weeks on end without some type of intervention. … We know which teachers have the highest percentage of failure rates for Latinx and Black males. Maybe they need more support? Maybe they need support in changing their practice.”
Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell said, “It definitely looks correlated, Jude, there’s no doubt about that. Whether or not it’s causal, or symptomatic, I don’t know. But this is a trend that hasn’t gone away. It’s something that we work diligently on, and we’re going to continue to do that.
“Perhaps in an online environment, maybe more students will participate in things virtually, I don’t know. I don’t know how that sense of connectedness will play out. And, Latinx males are on everybody’s radar, too. … And we’ve been strategizing and working on that consistently. And that goes to the engagement piece; that goes to your attendance piece. … If we compare this nationally, you’ll see better numbers in Evanston – of course, you will – but our students deserve and our kids and families certainly deserve better than what they currently have.”
Board member Stephanie Teterycz said, “Jude, I wholeheartedly agree. I feel like we have to treat this like a crisis. If this was a budget … we’d figure out a way. … And, you know, likewise, if this was a falling off of white male students… [if they] started showing these rates of decline, we’d be getting to the bottom of that lickety-split, and, and figuring out every way to resolve those issues.
“And maybe it is to say, ‘Where are we putting our priorities? And how are we treating this as the crisis that it is?’ … I haven’t been on the Board that long, but I know this has been an ongoing issue. And it’s the same story every year. And every year more students go through and come out the other end in whatever shape, you know, they’re coming out, but we know that along racial lines, the Black and Latinx students are faring much worse at the other end of this, and it’s not acceptable. That’s just not acceptable.”
She added, “It’s a combination of all the things that have been raised tonight: … what happens when the door closes, how resources are allocated, how much checking we’re doing and what’s going on in the community. But maybe we really need to start thinking creatively [about] ‘How do we engage our community?’
“I feel responsible reporting back to our community that we’re just learning the same story again this year, that we didn’t do the joint Board meetings, that we’re not working more diligently with District 65, despite the fact that they have new leadership. … I just see time ticking away and this continuing unless we actually treat it like the crisis that it is. … So I’m with you, Jude, I’m with all of you on this. I know, I know, it’s upsetting to all of us. And no single cause is responsible for this. … And we can’t continue to have the same conversation in the same questions year after year.”
Monique Parsons said, “It’s frustrating, because I know that Evanston Township High School is one piece of the puzzle. And, you know, for as long as I’ve been on this Board, I’ve talked about the community approach. Because we know it doesn’t start at ninth grade, and we know that there are some fundamental academic gaps that exist prior to them getting to us. I’m still trying to figure out how we do better at this, how we do better as a high school, how we do better as a community: When will this frustrate everybody in the community?”
Pat Maunsell asked if there were “a couple things we can learn from. So one of the things I was thinking about is the redeployment of staff to really be case managers for kids, and really paying attention to their work and their assignments and talking to their teachers and all that detail work.”
Referring to the number of behavior referrals, she said, “If you look at our Black men, they went from 47% in [the Class of] 2019, to 69%, in the class of ‘24. That’s a 22% improvement. And I’m wondering what accounts for that? What can we learn from that detail about what worked, that we can start to learn from and apply more broadly, with all of our young men of color?
Dr. Bavis responded, “In terms of the reaching out to the students, and the redeployment of staff, we’re still learning from that experience. It’s too early to tell.” He added there is “real promise” in the possibility of having “a group of folks who are checking in and supporting kids at that, at that level.”
To Ms. Maunsell’s comment he said, “With that, in terms of the discipline data, there’s going to be a full on discipline report coming your way.”
… On Working With District 65
Several Board members said it is important for the District 202 Board to meet regularly with the District 65 Board. Normally the two Boards meet jointly at least twice each year, but this year’s joint meetings were cancelled.
Ms. Teterycz said, “I know, it’s not possible to close [the gap between white and minority students] within ETHS within the four years that we have them, because it starts from a very young age. … I think looking into investing in District 65 scores of young students before they come here, and then implementing support when they get here is important, because there’s no way that you can teach somebody who doesn’t know how to read to read within four years, and to catch up when they’ve lost that much time.”
Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said, “You’re absolutely right. And we’ve been talking about that and trying to make sure that we are working with District 65, because we recognize their experience that impacts their approach to school and academics.”
Ms. Livingston said, “I couldn’t agree more with the notion that we need to align our work with District 65 and within the community. And I would say that I think we missed an opportunity, both last spring and this fall, by not going ahead with our usual Joint School Board meetings, where we would have an opportunity to come together with our colleagues on the District 65 Board and within the District 65 administration to do a check in on many of these points.”
Ms. Parsons said, “I’m looking forward to what our conversations will be going for with District 65, but [with] the community as well. I mean, District 65 is struggling. The kids at District 65 are struggling. And so it won’t work with just us. … So there has to be some collective effort … that goes deeper beyond the School Districts.”
… On the Northwestern-Education Research Alliance (NEERA)
Ms. Livingston asked about the status of the Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA), which in May received a $650,000 award to support new research projects related to racial and economic equality and expand the collaborative work between Northwestern University and Evanston schools.
As originally conceived, the goal of the partnership was to come up with uniquely Evanston standards to measure achievement and determine college-readiness benchmarks.
“What happened?” asked Ms. Livingston. “Did they just fall into the black hole that is the pandemic?”
Dr. Bavis said, “The measures that initially they provided us, of which we could report on are essentially what they settled on. The on-track indicators for college-readiness based on where students were in ninth grade was what they came up with.” He also said the group is looking at thresholds for attendance.
The NEERA indicators for college readiness were backtracked from students who attended college and who persisted to a fifth semester. For the most part students may persist from one semester to the next if they have a GPA of 2.0 or above. A GPA of 2.0 is the borderline between passing and failing. Studies have shown that with nearly universal grade inflation, 77% of college students receive an A or a B in the majority of their classes.
Dr. Bavis also said a recent measure offered by NEERA “was like college- readiness in eighth grade and it was not something that was usable and so [they] kind of took a step back and they’re looking at the transition from eighth grade to high school; they’re sort of rethinking the data. … So after conversation and thinking about it, we’ve had to sort of step back; they’re working on eighth-to-ninth grade.”
He also said there would be an update at some point.
Ms. Livingston said, “I feel like we just keep putting it off. We’re optimistic about developing some new measurement system, but instead we end up with nothing. … Well, I guess nothing. It’s not nothing. We have the Illinois College Readiness benchmarks.”
Dr. Witherspoon said, “Whenever we look at achievement, when we disaggregate by race, we are here. This is where we are; this is where we have come. And it is a really difficult and complex problem. We know that, and we have to stay in our place of discomfort and continue the work that we’re doing. It’s really not easy. There’s no simple solution. There’s no one meeting that we can have and this would be solved. And I just want to remind everybody, we are in the midst of a pandemic. And we’ve turned our whole way of functioning and operating, as did District 65, as did the rest of our community. So it’s not as if we’re not doing anything here. We do have to do more, there is yet another opportunity.
Illinois Every Student Succeeds College-Readiness Benchmarks
The four IL ESSA College Readiness Benchmarks are:
– having an un-weighted cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of at least 2.8;
– having a 95% attendance record in junior and senior years;
– demonstrating proficiency in both English Language Arts (ELA); and
– demonstrating proficiency in mathematics
Proficiency is defined as having earned a certain minimum score on the College Board SAT exam. Last year a student could be deemed proficient by earning a certain score on either the SAT or the ACT exam.
To be “proficient” in ELA, according to Il ESSA standards, a student must meet one of the following criteria:
- – completing an ELA AP course with a grade of C or higher; or
- – receiving a score of 3 or higher on the ELA AP exam; or
- – receiving a score of 480 or higher in the SAT subject Reading and Writing.
“Proficiency” in mathematics is defined as attaining one of the following criteria:
- – completing Algebra 2 with a grade of C or higher; or
- – completing a mathematics AP course with a grade of C or higher; or
- – receiving a score of 3 or higher on an AP math exam; or
- – receiving a subject score of at least 530 in mathematics on the SAT
Sean Reardon, Ph.D., Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, has characterized the gap in test scores between white and minority students as an “opportunity gap.” Dr. Reardon acknowledges that test scores do not measure everything parents or a community want for their children, saying, “We also want them to learn art and music, to learn to be empathetic and kind, creative and collaborative, and to have good friends and be happy – it’s not all about math and reading.”
Nonetheless, test scores are a standardized measure of academic achievement and growth.
In a study published in September of 2019, Dr. Reardon and his co-authors say, “We examine racial test score gaps because they reflect racial differences in access to educational opportunities. By ‘educational opportunities,’ we mean all experiences in a child’s life, from birth onward, that provide opportunities for her to learn, including experiences in children’s homes, child care settings, neighborhoods, peer groups, and their schools. This implies that test score gaps may result from unequal opportunities either in or out of school; they are not necessarily the result of differences in school quality, resources, or experiences. Moreover, in saying that test-score gaps reflect differences in opportunities, we also mean that they are not the result of innate group differences in cognitive skills or other genetic endowments. While differences in two individual children’s academic performance may reflect both individual differences and differences in educational opportunities, differences in average scores should be understood as reflecting opportunity gaps, given that there are not between-group average differences in genetic endowments or innate academic ability.”