Peter Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and Carrie Levy, Director of the Department of Research, Evaluation & Assessment, presented the ETHS 2018-19 Annual Achievement Report to the District 202 School Board on Nov. 12.

The news was neither positive nor new; the gap in test scores between white and minority students continued, and scores overall for most subgroups in the class of 2019 were lower than those of their 2018 counterparts.

ETHS students’ performances, however, compared favorably with those of public high school students Statewide, and the State School Report Card designated ETHS as “commendable.”

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 this year, 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.”

The Achievement Report

The achievement report provided data showing how ETHS classes of 2017, 2018 and 2019 met four indicators of college readiness endorsed by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act State Plan (IL ESSA).

The four indicators are:

  • A student have an unweighted, cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of at least 2.8;
  • A student have a 95% attendance record in junior and senior years;
  • A student be proficient in both English Language Arts (ELA); and
  • A student be proficient in mathematics

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 18 in the English section of the ACT and a score of 22 in the Reading section; 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 or a score of at least 22 in mathematics on the ACT.

How the ETHS Class of 2019 Fared in Meeting IL ISSA Indicators

This year the ETHS Student Achievement report viewed students as meeting the IL ESSA indicators if they met only two of the four indicators; last year, the focus was on students who met three of the indicators.  Overall, 75% of the Class of 2019 met two or more of the college-ready indicators.

The chart below shows the percentage of students, broken down by race/ethnicity and gender, who met two, three, and four of the indicators. The chart illustrates that significantly higher percentages of white students met at least two indicators than black and Hispanic students. The difference is much larger if the standard is meeting at least three indicators or all four indicators.



Not shown in the chart, 50% of low-income students met two or more indicators, as did 30% of students with an Individual Education Program (IEP).

Unweighted GPA of At Least 2.8

The first indicator of college readiness is earning an unweighted cumulative GPA of at least 2.8. Overall, 65% of the students in the Class of 2019 met that indicator. The chart below shows the percentage of the subgroups indicated who earned an unweighted GPA of at least 2.8. 



The average cumulative GPA for the Class of 2019 was 3.0. The table below gives the average for the subgroups indicated.

Average GPA for Class of 2019

Black females          2.6

Black males              2.3

Hispanic females    2.7

Hispanic males        2.6

White females          3.5

White males             3.3

  95% Attendance Rate

The IL ESSA defines the benchmark for attendance as having an attendance rate of 95% in junior and senior years.  Overall, only 49% of the students in the Class of 2019 met this benchmark. The average attendance rate was 92%.

Asian and white males and females ranked highest in attendance, though the highest rate of those meeting the benchmark (Asian males) was only 72%. The lowest groups were black females (35%) and students with an IEP (33%).

Meeting Proficiency in ELA and Math

Only 65% of the students in the class of 2019 met one or more academic indicators of proficiency in ELA, but 78% did so in math. The chart below shows the percentages of students in the subgroups indicated who met at least one ELA indicator and at least one math indicator.

The report shows the percentage of students who met the College Board’s college readiness benchmarks for the SAT in ELA and mathematics. The College Board’s benchmarks are an indicator of having a 75% chance of achieving a C in a first-semester course in a related subject. They are lower than the benchmarks identified by ISBE to indicate proficiency in ELA and mathematics.

 Studies have shown that, due to grade inflation, 77% of the grades given in college are As and Bs. 

The chart below shows the percentage of students in the Class of 2019, by the subgroup indicated who met the College Board’s benchmarks for college readiness in ELA and math.

Graduation and Disciplinary Referrals

Ninety-two percent of the class of 2019 graduated within four years of matriculation. The percentages for subgroups were 87.4% for Latinx students, 91% for black students, 95% for white students and 71.6% for students with an IEP.

The Student Achievement Report also reflects that 80% of the members of the class of 2019 were given four or fewer behavior referrals during their four years of high school and that 80% participated in at least one extra-curricular or co-curricular activity during junior or senior year.

Criteria Going Forward

Dr. Bavis said he expects data to be presented in a more nuanced fashion once ETHS is able to use the criteria developed by Northwestern Evanston Educational Research Alliance (NEERA), a partnership of Northwestern University and School Districts 65 and 202. NEERS is in the process of developing Evanston-specific standards for college readiness. These standards would be back-measured from students who graduated from ETHS and have persisted to a fifth semester in college.

The RoundTable has argued in a series of editorials in the past few years that the desired outcome sets low expectations for the community’s students.

Discussion

            Tracking Students Post High School

Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “So, on the graduation rate, you made some remarks about ‘It’s great that we have a large number of students going to college,’ but we’re mindful of the fact that we have some of our students going not into a four-year college – some straight into work, some into the military. … Are we doing anything, or is there any way to track that?”

Dr. Bavis suggested building an infrastructure to collect that data. He asked Dr. Levy, “Do you have any thoughts on how we can do that?”

She responded that all seniors are required to take a survey so the school will know where to send the final transcripts but added that not all colleges participate in the clearinghouse that handles the transcripts.

“Through our work at the Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA) and with the Youth Job Center we can capture that data. It’s very different once they have graduated.”

            Questioning Calculations

Board member Pat Maunsell asked Dr. Bavis about the difference between the State’s and the high school’s data on chronic absenteeism. The State said ETHS had a chronic absenteeism rate of 10% last year.

 “It seemed like what the State was saying and what you were saying didn’t sync. That opened up a question for me about how they calculate the benchmarks. What do we know about how they calculate them versus how we calculate them?” Ms. Maunsell asked.

The State has changed how it calculates attendance, Dr. Levy said. Now all student absences – excused, as for a field trip or a trip with the debate team, and unexcused – are taken into consideration when the state determines “chronic absences.”

“So if you look under the hood, do you have other quirks like that – that don’t match up like that?”

Dr. Bavis said, “The college-readiness benchmark for the SAT does not line up with the State benchmark for ‘meets standards.’ The state benchmark for ‘meets standards’ in ‘reading, writing and English’ and also in ‘math’ is higher than the college-readiness benchmark established by the SAT.

“They look at how students do in their first year of college, whether they got a B or better or a C or better, and they ran numbers off of special test scores – so that’s what it means to be college-ready, according to the test. 

“The ISBE sat down with educators and administrators and looked at the SAT – and they got [their] scores using no psychometrics, no data analysis.”

Dr. Levy said, “I think you can add science to that.”

Board President Pat Savage-Williams said, It sounds like I would want to go through all of [the benchmarks], because they’re questionable.”

            “Is the Designation of ‘College-Readiness’ Useful?”

Board member Elizabeth Rolewicz asked how many of the four indicators of  the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA IL) plan – a cumulative unweighted GPA of 2.8, a 95% attendance rate and proficiency in both ELA and mathematics – the District would wish to have ETHS students satisfy to be called “college-ready.”

Dr. Bavis said, “It is important to note that that data is not in any way related to the NEERA standards.” He also noted that the State’s benchmark for English/Language Arts is higher that its mathematics benchmark and said the State “privileges” English AP classes.

“The State says students must attain one of the following in English/Language Arts – taking an AP course with the resulting grade of A, B or C or passing an AP English Language Arts exam with a score of 3 or higher or achieving a 480 in English on the SAT or a score of 18 in English and a score of 22 in reading on the ACT.

“So two of the four are contingent up enrolment – not in any AP class but in English AP.  So if we wanted everybody to be college-ready, we’d simply enroll all of our juniors in AP English and figure the grade-sorting after that. That’s very cynical, and we would not do that.”

In mathematics, Dr. Bavis noted, the State standard is taking Algebra 2. “I don’t think that’s a fair comparison to the English side of the equation. … I would anticipate seeing more students being ready in math, given the indicator.”

He also said, “You’re going to find that the general predictor of student achievement is student achievement.”

Dr. Levy noted that 65% of the students in the class of 2019 met one or more of the ELA benchmarks; 78% met one or more of the math benchmarks; and 75% met at least three of the college-readiness benchmarks.

Student Board member Echo Allen said, “The ISBE and the college-readiness benchmarks are not super-comprehensive. Are there standards at EHTS we use to designate college-readiness or is the designation of college-readiness not really useful?”

“Wow!” said Dr. Bavais. “The college-readiness benchmark for the SAT is valuable if you don’t have a dedicated research department like we have at ETHS. We also have a partnership with Northwestern University. , so when we say ‘college-readiness,’ it has more to do with the NEERA work. We have a far more nuanced view of it. Our indicators are based on ETHS students – ETHS outcomes for ETHS students. So when we say a student is college-ready at ETHS – that’s what you’ll see when we hear the report from NEERA later in the spring. We are talking about ‘What are the commonalities of students at ETHS who persist into a fifth semester of college – it’s a very high benchmark.”`

            IEP Students Show Little Progress

Carrie Levy, Executive Director of Evanston CASE (Community, Advocacy, Support and Education for children with special needs), was the sole speaker during the public comment section of the Nov. 12 meeting. Addressing the shift in focus from students meeting three benchmarks to students meeting only two, she said, “Moving the goal post this way makes the data look better than it actually is.

“If you analyze this data though a consistent standard, the percentage of students with IEPs meeting or exceeding college-readiness benchmarks was 29% in 2017, 35% in 2018 and 15% in 2019. Math and ELA data is worse. GPA data is worse; attendance is worse; extra-curricular engagement is worse. In my view this is an emergency.”

Ms. Rolewicz said, “I think our overall averages look really, really good because we really have some high-performers. I am still really taken aback about the huge discrepancy between the achievement of white students and the black male achievement and the IEP students’ achievement.

Dr. Levy said the cohort of students with an IEP is small and does not take into account students who are not taking classes in the main ETHS buiding.

She added, “These are all really nigh benchmarks, and we’ve looked at students in this enrolment [group] and talked with the Special Education Department.

“Is there a reason we don’t collect the data for the IEP students who are off campus?”

“They’re not taking classes in the building, so they’re not in our database,” Dr. Levy said.

“Do we have an understanding of whether they are college-ready?” Ms. Rolewicz said.

Dr. Levy said, “We can go back to our Special Education Department and ask them. I know they are probably looking at different measures.” She said there would be a report later in the year.

Nothing New: Scores Are Flat, At Best …

Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “When I look I see nothing very great. … The only groups that come up are Hispanic males and white males – everybody else has gone down. There seems to be about no good news.

“This is not just about test scores; it’s about grades. This is what we’re stuck with now. … This is the system we have right now, and it looks entirely flat to me.”

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon cautioned against comparing scores of the class of 2018 with the class of 2019. “There are different people, different cohorts,” he said. “You need to look to see where they were when they came to the high school. … Just to stay the same requires a year’s growth.”

                                                And Frustrating …

Board member Jude Laude said, “Every time I see these numbers – I have to be transparent about this – it’s just so sad and frustrating, as [Ms. Rolewicz] said, between the outcomes for our black and brown students and our white students.

“However, it’s not surprising, because it’s reflective of our numbers as it relates to our academics. Black and brown students are underperforming in their subject areas, and they do so when they take the test as well.

“So I know for me the greater question is, ‘What is our process and what is our approach, as we interpret and unpack this data, that lead to action?’”

“I know this is not new. These numbers are consistently the same – it’s like I’m expecting it. I think what’s gnawing at me is, ‘Well, how do we position ourselves to changes these things?’ And I think that gets more to ‘How are we interpreting the data and what action do we come up with?’

“I know we are doing a lot – for example, with engagement. And students show that the more engaged students are, the better they will do academically. But it’s just not enough. The greater question is what we will  do that will relate in the subject areas, too.

           … Because They Are So Predictable

“But still, that’s the greater question for me, because I’m expecting there to be a disparity – a great disparity. And our curriculum is aligned to prepare these students, and you see the disparity there, too.”

“The challenge is to find additional measures that complement the story,” Dr. Bavis said. He added the student achievement report was created three years ago, “and one of the things I think we should do but didn’t do is look at the qualities we value in graduates of ETHS and then align the measures – so we have more of a comprehensive view of not only what it means to be an ETHS student but what we are doing to [incorporate] that. … If we continue to be aligned to these outcomes – external outcomes – that are dictated, we will see similar patterns – unless we disrupt them. And one of the ways to disrupt them is to find other measures. It begins really defining what we’re looking for as a community, as well as our goals.

“I don’t think test scores are going to go away, but I think we can do a better job of complementing what it means to be a student at ETHS – and a successful student at ETHS.”

Ms. Savage-Williams said, “That’s what you’re talking about – how to challenge the numbers. We can’t accept them. We don’t accept them, and we want to defy the pattern.

Dr. Witherspoon said, “We have to look at what percent of our students were struggling readers when they came into ninth grade.”

“Do we have that data?” asked Ms. Livingston.

“Yes,” said Dr. Bavis, “we have it. It’s eerie that it’s that much of a predictor. Looking at cohorts, ninth-graders stayed at the same level.”

“You have to grow a year’s growth each year to stay at that level. Just to stay the same, you need a year’s growth at every level,” Dr. Witherspoon said.

“That’s a lot of catching up to do,” said Dr. Bavis.

“Teachers work really hard, even if they get only a year’s growth in a year,” Dr. Witherspoon said. “

            Outside-of-School Life Affects Performance

Board Vice President Monique Parson said she agreed with Mr. Laude that some of the data is “very predictable. It’s not just predictable by academics and tests but predictable by things that are happening in society that affect our black boys and our Hispanic boys as well.

“I want us to figure out how we can support our students – especially our students of color, but all our students – but I want us to, as a Board, be very realistic about what our students deal with when the bell rings – when they go out into the community, when they go back to the homes they’re in, when they’re back into society, and the facts that are also playing a part to how they show up at school.

“We get our reports, as well as our well-being reports and our discipline reports, and it’s always the same group. And it is up to us to do whatever we can to help our students be ready for whatever is waiting for them after they leave ETHS. It is also our responsibility to know that we cannot do this alone, and we absolutely need the support of the community and the parents to help us figure this out – to where the outcomes will not be so predictable.

“We need to broaden the conversation beyond what we communicate that frustrates us. And until we change some of these factors – until we care as a community – then we will continue to see the numbers that frustrate us.

“These are very real situations that these kids are facing – whether it’s homelessness, whether it’s not eating at night, dealing with other issues.

“When it comes to the societal issues that are affecting some of our black and brown kids, we need to real about this and figure out what we can do about it.”

Mr. Laude said there is a continuum from birth to 3 years of age that go until they enroll in District 202, at ETHS. “Belonging is a huge factor in this, and belonging is the responsibility of those who are in the building and in the District 65 buildings. … We all have to take the responsibility to make sure these scholars feel like they belong in some way. … This starts long before they enter our doors at District 202.

Ms. Maunsell said she agreed, “This is a broader community issue. What as a board can we do? Are there policies in the way? Are new policies needed? … Are we doing everything we can do?”

She added that the teachers and administrators are “doing so much already. What do we do to help you?”

Board President Pat Savage-Williams said, “Thank you for saying that. I think that it is up to us to ask the administration, and the District if there is more we can do to support this work. These numbers make me want to know more about how we’re supporting our students and how they are making a difference. I know the District is doing a lot, and I’m proud of the work we do as a school.”