Spurred on by a letter from the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board, the Evanston Township High School District 202 Board this week directed staff to ensure that data on college readiness of its students be “backmappable” to when a student is still in the cradle.

The discussion came before the board officially approved its goals for the high school, specifically Goal One, that reads:

“Equitable and Excellent Education. ETHS will increase each student’s academic and functional trajectory to realize college/career readiness and independence. Recognizing that racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished achievement of students, ETHS will strive to eliminate the predictability of academic achievement based upon race. ETHS will also strive to eliminate the predictability of academic achievement based upon family income, disabilities, and status as English language learners.”

Traditionally, a goal on college readiness is measured by the percentage of students that go on to college. But Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, suggested that a different measure for college readiness should be used.

He proposed that “the ultimate indicator of college readiness is college persistence.”

By that, he said, he means that the district should not just measure whether their students make it into college, but rather how many of them survive their freshman year and stay on to become sophomores.

He said the school’s research department did an extensive study of graduates who met the usual requirement of college readiness based on grades and standardized test scores and found that 86 percent of them “persisted” into the second year of college.

“This is by far,” he contended, “to be the best indicator of college readiness.”

The problem is that it is difficult to obtain these statistics on a consistent basis. Bavis said he has discussed the matter with Dr. David Figlio, who is not only the Director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, but has also been an involved parent at ETHS and has volunteered to spend three days with ETHS officials this summer to come up with meaningful measurement data.

In the meantime, the District 65 Board got wind of the fact that District 202 would be discussing measurement of the goal at Monday’s meeting and was concerned that its strategic plan was based on preparing its students to be on a path to flow smoothly into the high school as they become ready for college and/or careers by the time they finish.

In a letter, dated May 20 and signed by each member of the District 65 board, they were concerned that their efforts with the younger students were aligned through “backmapping” of the test scores and that their efforts might be negated if ETHS altered the measurement for college readiness.

“We urge you to slow down,” they wrote, “take the time to explore best practices in consultation with experts in our community, and adopt measures that are embraced not only by ETHS, but by our community as a whole.”

They were concerned, also, they said, “that these new measures represent a lowering of academic standards.”

The District 202 board bristled at this statement and insisted that their intent was to raise academic standards and not to lower them.

In an aside, District 202 member Mark Metz questioned the legality of the District 65 letter and even suggested that it might violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act because its content was not discussed at an official meeting of the District 65 board.

But when asked about this by Evanston Now, the board’s then-president, Tracy Quattrocki, responded: “The letter was never discussed by more than two board members at a time, and it was sent out for each board member to read and decide individually whether or not to sign.  At no point was the letter ever forwarded or sent among more than two board members. We have checked with lawyers to confirm that there was no violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

At any rate, District 202 member Jonathan Baum noted that the board was only planning to approve the goals Monday night, which they did, and that the measurements would be approved after the summer break.

So Baum, supported by his colleagues on the board, advised Bavis that whatever he and his staff ultimately recommends, they should ensure that those measurements be fully “backmappable” to the earlier grades as students work their way from their days in the cradle until they finish high school.

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. The irony is ironic
    So the D202 Board approved Goal One that states in part: “Recognizing that racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished achievement of students, ETHS will strive to eliminate the predictability of academic achievement based upon race.”

    Wow! It’s the most devastating. Are there racists in Evanston and at the high school? Who are these racists? We must purge them from the high school. Is there a way to weed them out? Someone call the Pacific Education Group for more advice!!! D202 needs to form a subcommittee on racist activities and expose these rascally racists!

    The irony here is the D202 Board says it wants to “eliminate predictability of academic achievement based upon race” but isn’t measuring academic achievement based on race kinda like racism?

    I hear there’s a gap in math test scores between male and female students. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hand wringing and belly aching about lower math test scores among female students.

    Things that make ya go, hmmmm?

    1. Yet again no explanation of black vrs. Hispanic
      Hispanics are assumed to have a language barrier to over come, hence bi-lingual education.
      Why then are their math and even reading scores higher than blacks ?
      No one seems to want to address the reasons. Two parents, family/community structure, family making them do homework, is poverty level different, parents education and income ?
      Instead we get generalizations and speeches.

    2. Maybe we need to hear from different groups

      It would be interesting to hear from first generation Asian parents about what is different about their schools [hours per day, days per year, testing, discipline, teachers [degrees, training, recognition in the community, pay], students [types/levels of classes, hours of homework per day].

      Presentations by British or Russian or other groups closer to the U.S. culture would also be helpful. One illustration [from a Russian mathematician] is that in Russia up to even the late 90s, students at many levels did not have the quality of computer the US had or the 'packaged' software.   So the students had to teach themselves, create software and study math even harder to make up for it–and be prepared for when they did have better computers/software.

    3. Trying REALLY Hard

      There are real obstacles students face but sometimes the obstacles become an excuse.

      There are many instances of people overcoming obstacles both in the U.S. and worldwide—wars, poverty, hunger, being shot and even left for dead, but yet getting them.

      One less dramatic and a bit more recognizable is the story of a young Russian high school student in the 1980s.  He applied to Moscow State University [think MIT with no Harvard or other comparable school in the U.S.] and took the exams to enter. He however had a Jewish sounding name and was not from Moscow [a requirement to enter MSU].  The examiners asked questions not part of exam and kept nit-picking every answer—then they failed him.  An examiner told him on the elevator that he had answered everything correctly—and far better than most—but being Jewish meant no way he would be admitted. 

      He enrolled in a lesser college, but crawled in window and over fences to sit in lectures at MSU.  A couple of professors took an interest in him and got him access to many resources.  Eventually he came to the U.S. and was hired as a visiting professor [they not he sought it] because of his work—actually he had not even finished college in Russian.  See Edward Frenkel’s “Love and Math” to see how REALLY trying works.

      How does this compare with Evanston or many other cities/situations ?

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong
    Isn’t District 202 trying to place the blame on District 65 for low college admissions. That is my take on “Backmappable” (by the way, my computer doesn’t recognize that word and is it correct to spell “map” with 2 “p’s”?

  3. Those who ‘bristled’

    You say: "The District 202 board bristled" at the District 65 board's plea for collaboration in defining college readiness. No, "the board" did not bristle, four particular members of the board — Metz, Parsons, Savage-Williams, and Sills — bristled. Members of the voting public should not be confused about this when the next school board election comes around.

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