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Bavis: College readiness indicators not predictive for some

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College readiness indicators are not necessarily predictive of college success, an administrator told the Evanston Township High School board Monday night.

“Some students who don’t meet the college readiness benchmarks get into college and succeed,” said Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Community colleges accept these kids and they do not want students who are not ready for college.”

The 2018-19 Annual Achievement Report presented to the school board uses measures identified in the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act State plan, endorsed by the Illinois State Department of Education. “ISBE standards are different than the College Board standards,” said Carrie Levy, director of research, evaluation and assessment.

ESSA guidelines include a GPA of 2.8 or higher, 95% attendance, and proficiency in both English/language arts and mathematics and are intended to inform schools about a student’s mastery of the standards.

The SAT College and Career Readiness benchmarks are based on scores in math and reading and writing sections of the SAT test and are designed to tell college admissions offices how likely a student is to succeed in college.

Bavis has issues with both sets of college readiness standards. The ISBE did not use data analysis to establish its standards, he said, and the standards for English are not comparable to the standards for math. “The ELA standards privilege Advanced Placement courses and there are only two of them,” he said, while the math standards simply require an A, B or C in Algebra 2. “It’s not a fair comparison.”

“The College Board uses SAT scores, which are grounded in a bell curve and are just a sorting mechanism for colleges,” Bavis said.

“The challenge is to find alternative measures,” he said. “We want to look at the qualities we value in graduates and measure that. If we align everything to the SAT we will continue to see disparities [in achievement by race]. Test scores aren’t going to go away but we need to find other ways to measure student success.” 

Bavis points to the work being done by the Northwestern Evanston Educational Research Alliance, established in 2017, to analyze student data, including grades, courses, attendance and extracurricular activities from middle school and earlier through high school and then track college persistence, defined as completion of five contiguous semesters of college, to determine what indicators can predict post-secondary success.” The NEERA model does not include SAT scores.

“The greatest predictor of student achievement is previous achievement,” he said. 

“Measures such as the College Board are useful if we don’t have good research,” he said. “We have our own research department plus NEERA, which is more meaningful. We’re looking for intervention systems to help” students succeed. 

Board member Gretchen Livingston asked how the school could track the 20% of the graduating class who don’t go to college.

Levy said that all seniors take a survey that asks for their plans for after graduation. “If they use the Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council or Youth Job Center to find employment we can track them,” said Bavis.

Board member Pat Maunsell asked about chronic absenteeism, defined as students who miss 10% or more school days per year, which is higher for ETHS than the state average on the ISBE Report Card.

Levy said that the state has changed its criteria for measuring attendance. Now any days in which a student is out of school for an excused or unexcused absence, even for a school-sponsored trip, are counted as non-attendance days.

“Every time I see this data I find it frustrating and sad to see the disparities in outcomes for black and brown students,” said board member Jude Laude. “But it’s not surprising. Black and brown students underperform in subjects and when they take tests.”

“How do we position ourselves to change these trends?” he said. “I know we are doing things such as encouraging student engagement because we know that engaged students do better.”

“I’m always the one who talks about community impact,” said Monique Parsons, board vice president. 

“I want to continue to figure out how to support our students,” she said. “I want the board to be aware of what happens after the bell and before school. It’s up to us to do what we can to help the students be ready for what they encounter after they leave ETHS.”

“Is there more we as a board can do?” said Pat Savage-Williams, board president. “I’m proud of the work we do. These numbers motivate me.”

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