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The Evanston Township High School District 202 Board heard an update on the earned-honors program in freshman humanities and biology Monday night and determined it was still too early to tell if it is working.

But something that was working dramatically well, they learned, were efforts by the school to increase participation by students taking Advanced Placement courses, which is one of the goals of the earned-honors program.

Now in its second year, the school adopted a policy of placing all students, except for those that were lagging in reading, into an upgraded humanities class in their freshman year that would give them a chance to earn honors credit, which has the effect of giving their grade point average a slight boost.

Monday night they reviewed “Restructured Freshman Year Initiative Evaluation Report # 1” presented by a four-person panel consisting of Carrie Levy and Kate Julian of the school’s Research, Evaluation & Assessment Department, assistant superintendent Peter Bavis, and David Figlio of Northwestern University.

The administrators said that, while there are no indications that the program is not doing what it was expected to do, they won’t know for sure until the students reach the 11th grade and begin taking Advanced Placement courses and college readiness tests.

Board member Jonathan Baum, who has expressed skepticism of the program in the past, questioned the wisdom of calling the course “Honors” and giving it the bump in the grade point average.

Formerly, ninth graders were placed in Humanities Honors based upon their scores on a standardized test taken while they were still in middle school. Under the revised program, regular humanities was dropped and all except remedial students were placed in a course that had the “rigor” of the Honors program, but required students to perform at a higher level in order to receive Honors credit.

The administration, which proposed the change, reasoned that, under the old system, many students were tracked into a lower level of expectations that would inhibit their ability to take Advanced Placement classes in their junior and senior years.

The next item on Monday’s agenda, however, was a report on the spectacular success the school has made in recruiting students into those Advanced Placement classes.

A panel that included three ETHS juniors—Conrad Gordon, Jonathan Senecal, and Tanya Tovar—noted that the number of juniors and seniors taking Advanced Placement classes had increased dramatically in recent years, from 551 students in 2004-05 to 948 students in the current year.

Helping in the recruitment process was a student group, TeamASAP (for Access and Success in Advanced Placement) that holds monthly meetings to support students with helpful advice from their peers.

Tovar said the AP classes have challenged her intellectually.

Senecal, a budding chemical engineer, said the classes have been instrumental in helping him with his career choice and have been “as close to a college experience as you can get in high school.”

Gordon said that “in AP, I’ve been challenged in a way that I haven’t been challenged in regular classrooms.”

The report indicated that the growth has occurred across all ethnic categories.

The percentage of African American students taking Advanced Placement classes in the past 10 years has increased from 13 percent to 38 percent, Hispanic/Latino students from 15 percent to 51 percent; and white students from 62 percent to 83 percent.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon noted that AP courses enhance a student’s “grit, or perseverance.” He added: “That is no small lesson.”

Top: Julian, Levy, Bavis, and Figlio answer questions about the earned-honors program.

Earlier story:

ETHS Board adopts freshman humanities changes

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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