D202 candidates lukewarm on mixed classes

Those humanities and  biology classes at Evanston Township High School that mix honors and regular students together will have to prove themselves to endure, in the opinion of most of the eight candidates for the four spots on the District 202 School Board.

Launched as an experiment to help students, primarily minorities, who failed to qualify for a spot in an honors class based on test scores while still in middle school, the results are being evaluated by a team headed by Dr. David Figlio of Northwestern University, who says he needs about five years to do a meaningful evaluation.

After much discussion, the plan for mixed-level, or earned-honors classes in freshman humanities began in the 2011-2012 school year. The concept was then expanded to biology for the current school year.

The theory is that freshmen should have the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of rigorous work in high school before being consigned to a non-honors track. So they're all put in the same class, but only those who meet stiffer requirements will earn honors credit, which adds a half-point to one's grade point average.

Incumbent Deborah Graham was one of two board members who voted against expanding the approach to biology this year. She expressed the opinion that the board should wait until the results are in on humanities.

Andy Bezaitis said he would stick with the current plan, but would have waited on the results before approving the expansion to biology.

Doug Holt agreed that the plan had promise, but he would not have supported the expansion to biology. It was “too much too soon,” he said.

Gretchen Livingston, the other incumbent in the eight-person field, said she had supported the plan for humanities but had advocated for a one-year delay on biology until more data was acquired.

Pat Savage-Williams said she would have supported the restructuring, but said assessment and evaluation “is critical as we move forward.”

Bill Geiger, Casey Miller, and Elena Garcia Ansani supported the decision on both humanities and biology.

The plan, said Geiger, “was well thought out and successfully executed.”

Miller said it would be unwise to “go back to a system that we know didn’t work.”

And Ansani said she agreed with and supported both restructuring plans.

The candidates expressed their opinions at a forum held Wednesday night at Haven Middle School, sponsored by the Central Street Neighbors Association. It was the first of several  school board candidate forums and roundtables scheduled before the election on April 9.

Related story:

PEG fails to rouse D202 hopefuls

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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