Editor’s note: This is one of two analysis pieces from the RoundTable on how Evanston’s school districts fared in the recently released Illinois Report Card, which provides statistical information on school districts throughout the state. Click here for the story on District 65.

Illinois released its annual school report card last Thursday, which highlights data on student performance, engagement, well-being and more.

The state rated Evanston Township High School as a “commendable school,” defined as “a school that has no underperforming student groups, a graduation rate greater than 67%, and whose performance is not in the top 10% of schools statewide.” A rating of “exemplary school” is reserved for those schools in the top 10%.

The good news: The ETHS four-year graduation rate continues to increase, reaching 94.2% in the 2021-2022 school year, vs. 94.1% in 2020-2021 and 93.1% in 2019-2020. Nearly every demographic group of students has also increased its four-year graduation rate over the last several years as well.

The bad news: The opportunity gap in student performance between white students and students from underrepresented minorities continues to persist, and is widening in some cases amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, 23% of students were chronically absent last school year, meaning they missed at least 10% of class days either with or without an excuse. That’s the highest rate of chronic absenteeism at ETHS since the 2018-2019 year.

Student underachievement data

When presenting reports on student achievement in the past, ETHS administrators have emphasized that gaps in performance between different racial groups ultimately illustrate the effect of structural racism on a community. When large gaps exist between the test performances of different demographic groups, that reveals different access to educational opportunities among those groups, education research has shown.

For example, in a 2019 study from Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project, the authors commented 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.”

And in a 2020 report from the University of California’s Standardized Testing Task Force, researchers concluded that “enormous differences in income and wealth along lines of race mean that parents have very different resources to invest in their children to prepare them for college.” Those differenced have ended up “widening the expenditure and opportunity gaps between [underrepresented minorities] and others.”

As a result, the data shown in the graphs below, which were compiled by the RoundTable using data from the state report card, offers some measure of how well ETHS and Evanston in general are providing equitable opportunities in education for all local students.

Trends in SAT scores

Since 2017, student performance among ETHS juniors on the English and math portions of the SAT has followed a downward trend, as shown in the graphs below. Each chart shows the percentage of ETHS juniors who met or exceeded state standards in English or math in the years indicated. The benchmarks to meet these standards are determined by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and define what constitutes a “college and career ready” student.

The graphs also show that much higher percentages of white students are meeting or exceeding state standards in both English and math than Black and Hispanic students. Wide opportunity gaps continue to persist.

Of course, learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic and more than a year of online classes have contributed to lower scores in each of the last two years. Still, juniors also showed a dip in test performance between 2017 and 2019 prior to the pandemic. Students with disabilities were the only demographic group that showed significant gains in achievement during that time.

The RoundTable analyzed longitudinal SAT performance data going back only to 2017 because that was the first year the state report card assessed student achievement with the SAT, rather than the ACT or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Each chart shows the percentage of students in each year who met or exceeded state standards in English or math.

Meanwhile, the school’s enrollment has increased slightly in each of the last several years, from 3,621 students in 2020-2021 to 3,636 students in 2021-2022. ETHS has seen a decline in its number of Black students, though, from 960 in 2019 to 902 last year. The district has seen the biggest increases among Hispanic students, from 648 in 2019 to 724 last year. The number of students with disabilities has also grown from 796 in 2019 to 1,044 in 2022.

The number of students who were chronically absent from classes, with or without a valid excuse, was also up slightly in 2021-2022 compared with 2019-2020. The low rate of chronically absent students in 2020-2021 resulted from a full year of remote learning due to the pandemic.

Educational opportunity gaps

Perhaps the most concerning data released Thursday, however, are the numbers that show the opportunity gaps between different student demographic groups.

The gap in performance between white students and low-income, Black and Hispanic students decreased marginally in English but has increased in math. In most cases, a gap of more than 40 percentage points separates math and English proficiency among white students, non low-income students and students without disabilities and their peers from marginalized groups.

A series of graphs below, taken from the 2021-2022 Illinois school report card for ETHS, illustrate the severity of these disparities in access to educational opportunities by demographic group. For example, the number -46 listed between “non LI” and “LI” for English performance demonstrates that a gap of 46 percentage points separated the English proficiency of non low-income and low-income students at ETHS in the spring of 2022.

The opportunity gap numbers are the same for “school” and “district” because ETHS comprises all of District 202, which is made up of the one high school. Next to each of those statistics in the charts below are the opportunity gap numbers for the entire state of Illinois, on average. Clicking through each of the charts displays opportunity gaps by income, race and ability. Schools are required by federal law to construct individualized education programs (IEPs) for all of their special education students.

As the data shows, gaps in educational opportunities for underrepresented minorities at ETHS far outpace the average gaps at schools in Illinois, revealing a high need for more equitable access to educational experiences and enrichment in Evanston.

On average, Black and Hispanic ETHS students are performing better in English and math than their peers around the state, as shown in the graphs below, but the gap in opportunity remains much larger at ETHS.

When contacted by the RoundTable for thoughts on this latest batch of achievement data, a spokesperson for ETHS said administrators would address the report card at the next school board meeting on Monday, Nov. 14. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis and Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment Carrie Levy did not immediately respond to questions from the RoundTable about the data.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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