Generally, Evanston Township High School teachers and students are feeling more stress and less trust in the institution, according to the most recently released data from the 5Essentials survey that students and staff took last spring.

ETHS junior and member of the city’s Youth Advisory Committee, Nathan Campbell offers solutions to city’s gun violence. Credit: Gina Castro

Every year, students at schools across Illinois take the survey, which poses 80 questions to students and 150 questions to teachers about their daily lived experiences in the classrooms and hallways at school.

All in all, the annual report on the survey results for each school represents a robust and in-depth set of data on students’ and teachers’ social, emotional and academic wellbeing.

Researchers ultimately use the responses to those questions to create a composite score for each school on five different measures: involved families, ambitious instruction, supportive environment, collaborative teachers and effective leaders. As shown in the charts below, ETHS’ score in every category has trended downward over the last four years.

“There’s been some really hard years, and ways of engaging with one another, ways of collaborating, ways of connecting, have undergone some significant disruption simultaneously for everyone in really profound ways,” said Elliot Ransom, co-CEO of the research group UChicago Impact, which analyzes 5Essentials data every year.

“And that’s really hard. It throws all people for a loop differently. Educators are hurting, parents are hurting, kids are hurting inside of school and outside of school.”

But the overall scores for each of the five main categories can sometimes paint a deceptive picture, said Penny Sebring, co-founder of the UChicago Consortium group and one of the original architects of the 5Essentials survey.

Instead of looking at just the overarching results compiled by UChicago Impact, the actual responses to individual survey questions are a key component rich with information about daily school experiences, Sebring said.

“One thing to realize about the scoring is on a curve, so each school is being compared to all the other schools, or the average for the other schools. If most schools are positive about a certain concept, then it’s hard to get a good grade on that concept,” Sebring said. “In some cases, they [the schools] are all clustered at the top, or they’re all clustered at the bottom, so this is where looking at the individual items gives you a little more perspective.”

Concerns about teachers and leadership?

In 2022, and in every year since at least 2019, ETHS has scored the lowest on the effective leadership section, receiving a designation of “very weak” in the most recent survey results.

ETHS 2022 TEA Winners. Top row: Anita Bucio, Michelle Green, and Teresa Houston. Bottom row: Ganae McAlpin-Toney, Abdel Shakur, and Adriane Slaton. Credit: Submitted by ETHS

But, as Sebring explained, that might mean that 60% or 70% of the teachers completing the survey responded positively about their relationship with the administration, and the school still received a low score because the state average outpaces those numbers.

The graphs below show ETHS teacher responses to a variety of different questions about their wellbeing, their relationships with other adults in the building and the support provided by leaders in the administration.

Each question also includes data for the last four years of 5Essentials surveys, showing how teacher responses have changed over time. The black line for each answer represents the statewide average, and the columns should be read from left to right, going from 2019 to 2022.

Some of the most concerning trends at ETHS are encompassed in these five survey questions for teachers, Sebring said. For example, even though the majority of respondents feel supported by the principal, 27% of teachers – the highest number at least going back to 2019 – said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “the principal looks out for the personal welfare of the faculty members.”

This particular question can be tricky to interpret for ETHS because the school has both a principal and a superintendent in the building on a daily basis. In the spring of 2022, when people filled out this survey, Eric Witherspoon was still superintendent, and Marcus Campbell was the principal.

ETHS Superintendent Marcus Campbell, pictured here greeting students on the first day of school this fall, said he’s once again considering the idea of a weapons detection system at the school. Credit: Richard Cahan

Now, of course, Campbell has taken over as superintendent. Sometimes, a major transition in the leadership of a school can result in a temporary drop in 5Essentials scores about relationships and teacher faith in the institution, according to Sebring and Ransom.

Ransom said he could not say for sure if teachers were responding based on their relationship with Witherspoon or with Campbell, though the questions do specifically ask about the “principal.”

On top of that, 28% of ETHS educators, up from just 9% in 2021, said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “I usually look forward to each working day at this school.” Also, 22% of teachers disagreed that “teachers in this school trust each other.”

“I guess I would say to them [ETHS leadership] that I’m a little more worried about your teachers than I am about your students. It’s been such a hard three years for the teachers, and we’re all worried about teacher burnout,” Sebring said. “In the collaborative teachers and effective leaders [categories], even though the labels are probably deceptive, there are things we worry about.”

One thing that ETHS always does score strongly in is the involved families section of the survey, where most teachers report having a positive working relationships with the parents and families of their students.

But there are still some negative trends in that category, though, where the number of teachers saying they feel like partners with parents has dropped steadily. At this point, 28% of teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed that “teachers and parents at this school think of each other as partners in educating children.”

Academic experiences

ETHS received a “neutral” rating in the ambitious instruction category, which uses student responses to assess the quality of the education that the school is providing.

The school got high marks for the engagement of students and their interactions during class discussions, though some of the specific instruction in English fell short of state averages, as shown in the graphs below.

The 2021 uptick in teachers who responded “rarely” for how often students built on each other’s ideas in class discussions corresponded with the year that ETHS classes were online due to the pandemic.

The percentage of students strongly agreeing that they “learn a lot in this class” has declined slightly, from 35% in 2019 to 26% in 2022.

And, while ETHS scored well for student collaboration in class on math problems, 64% of students in 2022 said they only worked together to improve a piece of writing in English class once or twice a month, once or twice a semester or never at all.

Student safety and wellbeing

With school safety at top of mind for every district and board of education across the country right now, the 5Essentials also has a treasure trove of information about where students feel safe in school, and if they feel safe with their teachers.

The graphs below show how safe students feel in their classes, in the halls and in the bathrooms at ETHS.

For every category, there was a significant drop from 2021 to 2022 in the percentage of students who reported feeling “very safe.” At the same time, the percentage of students feeling only “somewhat safe” or “mostly safe” increased in each category, as well.

For instance, 74% of students reported feeling very safe in class in 2021. That number fell to 55% in 2022. Comparatively, 20% said they feel somewhat safe in the bathrooms in 2022, up from only 5% in 2021.

The front page of Decem. 16, 2022 issue of The Evanstonian, which covers public safety at ETHS and in Evanston alike. Credit: The Evanstonian

“A lot of people want to use [the 5Essentials] to compare this school to that school. And ultimately, the comparison that matters is a single school to itself over time. That’s really what is most meaningful at the end of the day,” Ransom said.

“I feel safe where I am, or I don’t feel safe where I am. It doesn’t matter if, a town over, students are saying they feel safe. That’s irrelevant to me, to my students, to my school.”

As a result, the purpose of the survey is to give school boards, families, teachers, superintendents and others a point of reference for what is going well, and what needs improvement, according to Ransom and Sebring.

“When you avail yourself of leading research, of disciplined practices around improvement, you’re able to engage in the work in subtly or profoundly different ways in pursuit of continuous improvement,” Ransom said. “When it tends to be most successful is when folks are engaging, and they’re digging into the data, having new or different or nuanced conversations and are bringing that additional insight to the table alongside other 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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  1. I teach at Niles West and I am very familiar with this survey–I suggest that people should take these results with a big grain of salt for at least two reasons:
    1. Many people do not fill out the surveys, and the ones who do not do so may very well not share the concerns of the ones who answer the questions. (Satisfied teachers and students often ignore the survey.)
    2. The questions themselves lead more often to negative responses because the survey seems as if it is intended to find problems rather than identify strengths.