A growing percentage of students of all ethnicities are taking Advanced Placement classes at Evanston Township High School and they are scoring above the national and global averages.

That was the news delivered to the District 202 School Board this week by ETHS officials.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon noted that the school was in on the very beginning of the Advanced Placement program, back in the 1950s, which enables academically superior students to earn college credit while still in high school.

Dr. Judith Levinson, director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment at ETHS, said the program has grown from 290 students in 1995 to 930 today.

The percentage of juniors and seniors enrolled in one or more of the 27 Advanced Placement classes enrolled at ETHS, she reported, has increased from 40 percent in 2006 to 63 percent today, and the increase has been noted among all major ethnic groups at the school.

For African-American students, the percentage has grown from 13 percent in the 2006-2007 school year to 32 percent this year. Comparable percentages for Hispanics are 22 percent in 2006 and 50 percent today, and for white students, the percentages were 61 in 2006 and 85 today.

AP exams are graded on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest grade. Students earning a 3 or higher may be given college credit at many institutions. At ETHS, some 70 percent of test takers scored 3 or higher, Levinson said.

She added that the average score of ETHS students on the AP standardized tests that are conducted on the same dates all over the world is now 3.2, compared with 2.89 for the United States and 2.91 globally.

Dale Leibforth, Advanced Placement Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, noted that AP students were once referred to in the school as “them” while today they are more and more becoming “us.”

He credited programs for building awareness among students and their parents for the growth of the program, and Witherspoon said the newly structured freshman humanities and biology classes are now contributing to that growth.

The changes in freshman and sophomore classes, the administrators noted, have increased the rigor of those courses and aligned skills and expectations to AP expectations.

Among the recruitment strategies employed at the school was a Pathways to AP Forum, developed to inform families about the options available to students along their path in the AP disciplines.

Although AP classes were initially skewed towards math and science courses, the 27 AP classes offered at ETHS today also cover subjects in English, fine arts, history and social sciences, and world languages.
Among the courses added recently were Art History, Music Theory, and a new Advanced Spanish Language option. 

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. A true measure of success?

    The article states:

    "AP exams are graded on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest grade. Students earning a 3 or higher may be given college credit at many institutions. At ETHS, some 70 percent of test takers scored 3 or higher, Levinson said."

    ETHS touts the increase in participation for all ethnicities.  But how about having ETHS also inform us who is actually getting college credit by scoring 3, 4 or 5 on the test?

    I think that information is important to assessing whether the Superintendent's heralded changes are something positive or just a "getting seats in the seats" program.  In other words, how are the different ethnicities faring when it comes to earning college credits?

    That will help everyone understand whether the rigorous coursework is making a difference for everyone.

    1. I agree that ETHS should

      I agree that ETHS should provide the score breakdown by race/ethnicity, as its typical for high schools and districts to do so. Such a breakdown should provide, at minimum, the number of AP exams taken by each group, the number of exams earning scores of 3 or higher (no need to disaggregate further), and the % of exams scoring 3 or higher.

      To keep any future data reported by ETHS in perspective, community members should consider 2012 AP data from the College Board:

      Nationally, about 28% of AP exams taken by Black students earned scores of 3 or higher, compared with 41% of exams taken by Hispanic students, 64% taken by White/Caucasian students, and 68% taken by Asian students. 

    2. Measurement is the problem

      The college credit thing is not the reason to fill the seats. It's about feeling good.

      If college credit was the purpose, a better option would be dual credit. A high school can offer classes (the same types as AP and more!) and offer college credit through Oakton CC. … Every student passing the course has college credit.

      At ETHS 30% of AP students who take the tests have no chance at college credit. But that is not the point. We have more AP students, and more rigor is documented to make more students "more better".

      When there is a need to show we have to do more, the number of AP students is shown to be small.. around 25% of students are AP.

      When there is a need to show superiority, the number is expressed in comparison to others (we beat the world!).

  2. Bravo ETHS

    Although such data would be worth knowing, research on Advanced Placement suggests that even taking an AP course without passing or taking the test increases the likelihood that a minority student will enter and graduate from college. That's probably why an emphasis on the scores themselves doesn't matter as much at this point to ETHS. Some colleges these days either don't accept AP scores at all or only accept 5s. But if AP provides students with opportunities to experience challenging coursework and assignments, whether or not a student earns college credit is immaterial, in my book.

    ETHS was one of several pilot high schools for the AP program back in the 60s. In light of those roots and of the decades of blatant discrimmination against minorities in assigning students to tracks, I'm delighted to hear that internal data affirm ETHS's recent efforts to equalize access to rigoruous academic opportunities.

    Bravo to Dr. Witherspoon, his team, and the Board.

    1. The data is available — why is it cherry picked?

      Because ETHS has focused on ethnicity in its announcement, more complete data would give a more complete picture then each person could make decisions based on that data.  I personally am watching everything to do with the high school (including violence inside and near the building plus the city's response or lack thereof, as well as the academic focus and progress) to determine whether we will remain in Evanston to attend ETHS or leave for another suburb. 

      ETHS knows which groups are getting 3s, 4s and 5s.  I think that parents and other taxpayers should know as well.  An incomplete picture only raises suspicion as to why data is being cherry picked as is the case here.

      What we also need to know — will getting a 1 or 2 in an AP class improve the student's chances of getting into college and graduating from college when compared to the student taking less challenging courses and getting higher scores or grades?  I'd like to know the source of the "research on Advanced Placement" that indicates that it does.

      I had always heard that getting a bad grade in a very challengin class hurts a student's college chances when compared to getting a good grade in a less challenging class (not an easy class but just a less challenging class).  But that may have been a folk tale at the time or may be outdated now.


      1. Here you go

        Here you go:

        Krista D. Mattern, Emily J. Shaw, and Xinhui Xiong, "The Relationship Between AP Exam Performance and College Outcomes" (2009), The College Board. 

        Hargrove, L., Godin, D., & Dodd, B. (2008) College Outcomes Comparisons by AP and Non-AP High School Experiences. (College Board Research Report No. 2008-3). New York: The College Board. 

        Dougherty, C., Mellor, L. and Jian, S. (2006) The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation. National Center for Educational Accountability.

  3. As a parent whose two

    As a parent whose two children took AP classes at ETHS I feel I must comment. One child scored a 3 and two 4's on her AP exams.  She attends a private university and was granted AP credit for one of the 4's, but not both. She will tell you that her AP English class senior year was life changing. The teacher created a community of learners, nurtured our daughter's writing ability and enhanced her ability to think critically about literature. As a kinesthiology and physiology major w/ a sports med minor, she has taken heavy loads of science in college and has spent plenty of time in the med school anatomy labs. She did not opt for the chem phys track at ETHS because of recommendations of her math teachers. Meanwhile, she took Anatomy as a senior, not an AP course as I recall, but one which has proved immensely helpful in preparing her for her major .

    Our eldest took 2 AP exams, scoring a 3 and a 4. He attended a large state school and was given AP credit for the 4. Neither received credit for taking AP calculus, but our daughter will say she had an easier time taking calculus in college. The exposure to college level material was certainly beneficial, though I would say that the drill and kill approach to AP US History was a huge disappointment. Our son who has a degree in Poli Sci and History from the U of A,  did not take AP US History opting for a mixed honors section. The teacher adored him, he was engaged and did all kinds of research, but will tell you that half the kids in his class slept, were disruptive or  could have cared less.  Taking the AP classes was certainly the way to go just given the material and the caliber of students around you who are there to learn, not be babysat!   Some AP courses, like US History need revision. Having kids re-write the books doing text outlines and flash cards was tedious and silly. Rigorous coursework at ETHS whether AP or not will set the stage for future success. All classes need to be taught in a way that challenges students and sets a high standard of learning for them.

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