The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education voted 5-1 Monday night to end the practice of tracking for its eighth-grade algebra students, essentially to quash the perception that students of color are not as good at math as their white counterparts.

The change will occur only at one of the district’s three middle schools this coming school year, and administration officials predicted that the chosen school will be determined around July 15, primarily due to logistical concerns.

But Superintendent Paul Goren indicated that the other two schools would be brought in as soon as possible if it appears feasible to do so. Otherwise, full  implementation of the plan will take effect with the 2018-2019 school year.

Board member Candance Chow cast the only “no” vote after expressing concerns about “process and timing.”

Presently, the top students take Algebra 1, while the struggling students take Algebra 8 at Haven, Chute, and Nichols middle schools. But both classes are the same, “both in scope and sequence,” said Goren.

However, the tracking tends to imply to the Algebra 8 students that they are somehow inferior to the Algebra 1 students, which is an impression that the district’s newly approved equity statement is trying to avert.

The research data indicates that tracking does not improve the math prospects of the top students, administration officials contend, based not just on research data from schools around the nation, but also upon results of the performance of students in the district’s two magnet schools, Kings Arts and Bessie Rhodes, where they are all taught in the same class.

Because all the board members appeared to be in favor of doing away with tracking, some of them questioned why only one middle school will implement the plan this year, instead of all three.

Assistant Superintendent Stacy Beardsley explained that there is too little time between now and the beginning of school in August to accomplish all the logistical steps necessary to implement the plan smoothly at all three middle schools.

Earlier story:

D65 board to vote on math tracking

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. Students do not learn equally

    Here is what does not make sense.

    If both classes are the same, “both in scope and sequence,” then why is there an Algebra 1 and 8? This system has been going on for years, probably decades.

    The idea with the current system is students who score higher on the tracking tests go into Algebra 1, presumably to tackle harder concepts in algebra opposed to those students who score lower, need help or who are struggling with the subject. It’s common sense. You want the students excelling in the subject freedom to be challenged rather than weighted down with struggling students. Other schools do this. 

    But once again Evanston school bureuacrats are dummying down education in the name of “equity, fill the gap,” ad nausaeum. And this happens the same year D65 held out its hand for another $116 million infusion to keep the district afloat.

    And this policy was enacted to “quash the perception that students of color are not as good at math as their white counterparts.” Excuse me but what about Asian and hispanic students? Are they not as good as their “white counterparts?”

    I say make Haven the first school to do away with math tracking. Let the children of those “one percenter” “white” wealthy progressives eat crow.

    1. Scope and sequence but not rigor

      As is often the case, D65 presents only the “facts” that support its story. Here, the story is that Algebra 1 and Algebra 8 are basically the same course, citing “scope and sequence” similarities. But they are not basically the same course.

      Rigor is the term that D65 does not want to discuss. With multiple children who graduated from D65, here is the explanation that I received. Algebra 8 covers the same topics as Algebra 1 but Algebra 8 is a kind of pre-Algebra class where the fundamentals of earlier math courses are stressed while algebra concepts are introduced. The term “Bridge to Algebra at ETHS” was used to describe Algebra 8 while Algebra 1 placed the student into Geometry as a freshman at ETHS.

      So will D65 adopt the more rigorous Algebra 1 course or simply dumb down the content for all students to Algebra 8?  And does the choice of Algebra 8 content mean that all incoming freshmen will be taking Algebra in 9th grade?  D65’s philosophy is let ETHS “sort it out” when the kids get there and, with a less rigorous foundation in math, all freshman who took the intro to algebra course in D65 will be taking algebra as freshmen.

      If D65 wants students to succeed at ETHS, dumbing down the math curriculum in 8th grade is not a wise choice. Instead, start challenging and supporting students’ math learning in the earliest grades. I found the math program in the elementary school to be uninspired.  Students who are good at math were not challenged and the students who struggled did not, in my opinion, get the attention needed to address their struggles. 

      D65 talks about differentiated learning but it is rarely done well. Ask ETHS about the preparation level of many students when they arrive from D65 as freshmen. 

  2. Tracking?

    This decision doesn’t make sense to me.  What is wrong with tracking according to ability?  If some students are at a higher level of achievment then others it makes sense to put them in a seperate class and give them more challenging work.  

    1. Glad my child already went through the Evanston School System

      My daughter went through the Evanston school system K-12 (Oakton/Chute/Haven/ETHS). It set her up to get accepted into and thrive at Northwestern University. Math is the one subject that must be tracked to allow the better students to develop to their highest potential. The opportunities to be pushed by kids at her level in middle school gave her the building-blocks needed to flourish at ETHS in math and science. My daughter finished AP B/C Calculus (as a junior) and AP Statistics. My wife and I chose to live in Evanston to have our daughter live and learn in a diverse social and economic environment. We could have easily moved to a suburb in the New Trier district. Today, I think we would make a different choice. I am very disappointed that the only thing that seems to matter to our school board members and leaders is political correctness and balanced classroom race count (in honors and AP classes). The districts (65 & 202) seems to continuously take things away from the better students to help the student with less ability. I am all for pushing every student in our district. We as a community support this notion with our voices, hearts and pocket-books (see the last bond vote for our schools). Taking opportunities from students in the top end of the “Bell Curve” does nothing to help the students in the lower part of the curve. Hiring consultants and quoting studies for the changes made to our schools gets us nothing. As a business person, we all know that you can find a consult or previous study to prove just about any position in the spectrum. Hire the right group and you get the results you want with documented back-up. Look at our screwed up state and federal governments. They all think they are right because some study or statistic backs up their claims. School has always been about ability and achievement. Taking away Math tracking by ability is a foolish move! The school districts are forcing parents to send the better students to the private schools to get better classroom opportunites. What a loss that would be both for the Evanston community and the students!

      1. Elections HAVE Consequences

        I expect the School Board Members who voted to end math tracking were duly elected. Elections HAVE consequences. I personally agree with your perspective, but obviously the MAJORITY of voters in Evanston do NOT agree with us.

      2. I Disagree

        You remind me of every other white, upper class parent in this town who thinks their child is “gifted”.  I wonder how you would feel about the system if your daughter happened to struggle or been at grade level ability.  There are statistics which show that, by and large, most white students in Evanston outperform the majority of students nationwide and that our African American population is just below average.  Rather than worrying about how much “higher” we can push the white kids, let’s focus on helping those who need a little extra.  There is much value in mixed level classrooms – for both the advanced and the struggling student.  

        1. Always excuses

          I almost never see any education comments about parents responsibility in the education process—setting times for students to do homework, parents setting an example by studying [or at least reading] while the kids study, helping [or getting help] when students have questions/problems, making learning interesting [by parents being interested themselves], providing books [buying or getting from the library].  Of course some parents and even students clearly don’t have time [because of holding multiple jobs] or the money for help—but for those who do but don’t what are the schools or city doing to help ?

          While there may be other [or even better] most parents much remember the TV commercials from 20? years ago the following that was introduced by Michael Landon and then John Ritter “Where There’s the Will, There’s an ‘A’”


        2. This is not about race!

          This is not a race issue! It is about giving every student the opportunity to achieve to the highest level possible. My daughter attended Oakton K-5. She was the minority at that school. It was a great school with great teachers. She got through before they changed it from a neighborhood school to an ACC program. I am very proud to say my child went through the Evanston Public School System and is attending one of the best universities in the country. Every Student Matters! We as community just gave the school board more money than ever before to educate all Evanston kids. I truly believe we can have programs that push everyone from the highest to the lowest. Removing math tracking for the good students is not the answer in my opinion.

          1. Oakton Elementary remains a neighborhood school

            I am so glad to hear that your daughter had a positive educational experience at Oakton Elementary School.  So did my children.

            I want to address one issue that you mentioned in case there is any misunderstanding–Oakton is still a neighborhood school.

            Oakton has one strand (meaning one classroom at each grade level) each for both the Two-Way Immersion Program and the Afro-Centric Curriculum program.  Both of those programs include neighborhood kids, as well as students from across the district.

            And there are still General Education classrooms at Oakton that are, to the best of my knowledge, all neighborhood students.


          2. Completeley Neighborhood School

            Two-Way Immersion Program and the Afro-Centric Curriculum -changed the make-up of the school. It is no longer a straight neighborhood school.

        3. Hi ETHS parent – In my

          Hi ETHS parent – In my opinion tracking does not take educational opportunities away from “struggling” students.  It is just a recognition that students have different abilities and will learn best if taught at a level commensurate with their ability.  It does not help students who are behind to be given material that they are not ready to master and it does not help students who are ahead to be given material that is too easy.  

        4. No value whatsoever
          It’s been a few years, but I do remember my school days. We didn’t have advanced tracks or even courses, so I felt tremendously slowed down and unchallenged.

          It was a disservice to me done in the name of equality or some other such ever elusive principle.

          So, I can only imagine all the great learning I could have done instead of zoning out while the teacher took to explaining the same thing over and over again.

          As far as being “white” and “upper class” parent – who do you think pays most taxes around here?

        5. Pity party and political correctness
          Why is there constant talk about white kids scoring better than black kids in Evanston? Yet no dialogue about Asian or hispanic kids. African American students attend the same schools and live in the same town as white students, Asians hispanics etc. What makes them different? Why is race even an issue? Unless, some like you suspect blacks are not capable to compete academically with students of other races?

          Your comments are offensive and detestable. “Rather than worrying about how much “higher” we can push the white kids” or “You remind me of every other white, upper class parent in this town who thinks their child is “gifted.”

          Then again, maybe you’ve answered your own question. You don’t think or expect your daughter to be “gifted.” Therein lies your problem. Expect your kids to be eagles and they will likely soar. Expect them to be turkeys and their likely to gobble and hobble around pecking for scraps. And in terms of mixed math classes here’s another slogan to nibble on – You can’t hangout with chickens and expect to soar with eagles.

          Since everyone in Evanston loves to break things down based on race to support the never ending grievance crowd I wonder what the racial breakdown is in terms of single parent vs two parent households and parental education achievement. I bet you dollars to donuts that there is a direct correlation between student academic performance and parental education achievement and the number of parents in the student’s household regardless of income status. But our bungling school bureaucrats totally ignore these key facts and rather enact policy based on feelings.

          Truth? We don’t need no stinkin truth. Just keep blaming white people and hope enough feel guilty to join in on the pity party.

          1. There is no easy answer.

            “Dollars to donuts?”  “Soar with eagles?”  “We don’t need no stinkin truth?”  Hardly persuasive banter and clearly the rhetoric of someone not willing to embrace what’s best for all members of our community – only people like yourself.  Turns out, we probably are both white, upper class with high achieving students.  I don’t expect less from my kids.  I just want more for those with less resources.  And, this isn’t about race.  It’s about supports and economic opportunity.  Unfortunately, there are many students in our community who don’t have the parental and economic supports which make life easier for kids like ours.  I don’t think there is a right answer for this debate and that’s too bad.  

  3. District 65/ETHS math track program?
    I recall that District 65 had a program that sent top junior high school students (mostly 8th graders) who scored very high on the math tests to ETHS for advanced math class. I assume that this new math program at District 65 does not have this option anymore. I also recall that the ETHS math track was dominated by girls. With all the emphasis on getting girls into STEM it is a shame that top scoring junior high girls are denied the opportunity to take high school math at ETHS.

  4. Tracking or Bananas

    When a famous economist was criticized years ago for saying we were in a ‘recession’ he said he’d now call it ‘bananas.’

    It sounds like we have a similar situation with schools. Tracking has got a  bad name in Evanston, so call the programs something else, but don’t dumb down the education.

    Evanston is not alone in having an outdated system. Students should be able to take courses that are at their level. If a 5th grader can do 6th grade math [and wants to] he should be able to go to the 6th grade course. The same for Middle school students–if they are at the level and want to take 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grade math, they should be allowed to—either at courses at the Middle school, ETHS, independent or tutor.  Likewise ETHS students should be able to ‘move-up’ to higher level classess, ‘pass out’ of classes or take/get credit for classes at Oakton or NU—without all the barriers the system sets up. I mention ‘math’ as an example because they may not want to [or feel ready in other subjects] to skip a grade(s) which can cause other problems such as fitting in with older students.

    Schools should not ‘hold back’ students because of ‘”his is how we  always did it.” Schools should be fluid, not fixed in what makes administrators [or teachers] feel comfortable.

    1. P.S. Fluid grades

      NU [and I assume Oakton and other colleges] has had several ETHS students take course there and I think NU professor have held classes at ETHS. We have seen some colleges accept students under even 14 as regular students. Half way between this, NU in 2016 had a home schooled student “For the fourth and last time, we will present a special award to high school student Fiona Brady…who will enroll this coming fall [2017] at the University of Chicago. Fiona began with us in Math 291 and 331; she has long since progressed into graduate courses.

      I realize schedules and time can be a handicap going from one school to another [e.g. a Middle to ETHS] but surely accommodations can be made. Attending Oakton or NU also adds costs which can make ‘fluid’ grade education difficult. 

  5. No Data From 202
    My understanding is that there was either no or insufficient data from ETHS reviewed before this decision was made. 8th grade intervention is way too late in my opinion.

  6. D65 not ending all math tracking

    The headline “D65 board votes to end math tracking ASAP” overstates what D65 is doing. Read the article: the board voted to end one piece of tracking, namely, it will put all 8th grade algebra students into one type of class. 

    The article says nothing about students who take Algebra in 7th grade and then take Geometry in 8th grade. There’s no indication in this article that this practice would stop, and it’s an excellent practice for students who are ready to move forward in that manner. 

    It would be useful for concerned parents of grade schoolers to know the process for how students at King Arts and Bessie Rhodes — students who already all take the same 8th grade algebra class — get sorted into Freshman Honors or Regular Geometry classes.

    There’s an epic difference in content and difficulty between Honors and Regular Geometry, and then between Honors and Regular Algebra II, and finally between Honors and Regular Trigonometry. Some students thrive with the harder classes, others don’t. 

    Put another way, I wouldn’t sell my house and move to Wilmette based on this particular Board vote.

    1. Thank you Maret for that

      Thank you Maret for that additional information. That is definitely incredibly helpful to know. I do hope that taking Algebra in 7th grade and Geometry in 8th grade is still an option for students.

  7. Tracking’s Influence According to a Couple Education Researchers

    http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/algebra-middle-school-math-track/ ” ‘Parents should be attuned to whether or not their kids are properly placed in math,’ [Tom Loveless, Brookings Senior Fellow] says. ‘The two worst-case scenarios,’ he says, ‘are an 8th grader struggling in algebra or a child of any age who is bored — spinning their wheels with material they’ve already mastered.’ Erik Hanushek, an education policy expert and senior fellow at Stanford University, says struggling through in 8th grade algebra does more harm than good. While mastery — think A’s and B’s and high end-of-course scores — of algebra in 8th grade is a strong indicator of college and future success, forcing an unprepared child to take algebra too early can have dire consequences.”

    Sounds like a possible lose-lose situation — bad for middle school students currently struggling with math AND bad for students who are excelling in math. While I absolutely believe the district should do everything they can to help ALL students reach their potential in math and setting the tone that “you can do it” is certainly a positive as once a student thinks they “can’t,” it’s hard to recover. I would personally rather see math test scores and aptitude for lower income and higher income students BOTH improve rather than a “reversion” to the mean where the achievement gap is smaller.

    In the New Trier district, they have major math tracking starting in like 5th grade, but I guess they don’t care about perception obtained by its lower-achieving math students because everybody is white (or Asian) basically, so it’s not an issue optically. I would assume there would be a socioeconomic correlation in New Trier’s math tracking, however.

    In the end, seems like everybody’s heart on the board is in the right place with this decision in wanting to improve the outcomes of the most students possible, but based on the studies and comments from experts I’ve seen, this decision actually hurts the outcomes of students on BOTH sides of the spectrum. Incidentally, according to the same article, tracking has gone through various periods of decline based on its purported influence on contributing to the achievement gap. It declined in the 90s and increased in the early 2000s, and has continued to rise. About 75% of students are tracked in math in middle school today. It’s obviously a controversial issue with strong opinions on both sides, but in something like math, I think the academic research definitely skews to one direction. It will be interesting to see the results from five years. If the overall mean goes down but the achievement gap is reduced, is that considered a success? I doubt it will have much of an impact either way, to be honest. I don’t see the students moving “up” to Algebra 1 doing better in high school math than they have done historically. basically, its’ the same experiment ETHS just did with its “all students in honors humanities” freshmen year. Made no difference in the eventual outcome of the student population.

    1. I applaud the school board
      I applaud the school board for their courage to support the children of color in our schools. The children should all be in one classroom receiving what they need. The kids need to learn to solve problems together in school. In the future, they will be prepared to solve problems together as adults. It’s obvious from the comments that many kids in our diverse community won’t learn to value diverse ideas and people from their parents.

      The schools shouldn’t support the idea that white kids are brighter and better so, they deserve their own classrooms. Imagine if you were the descendant of a slave and not a slave owner.

      Being a kid in the lower level class that never had a teacher that helped you or treated you kindly. Yes, that is a reality for many kids of color in good old diverse Evanston. Every parent that wants their gifted child separated from children of color should think about how white privilege has helped and hurt you.

      It’s 2017 and the horrible system of slavery is still hurting the progress of children of color. Actually, the past has hurt all of us. If a large group of our students are not doing well our system is failing.

      I am tired of people blaming families for not working hard enough to educate their kids. Many studies have shown that middle class black/white children don’t have the same experience in our schools. Racism and low expectations are heavy burdens for children to deal with.

      Promoting the tracking system is similar to the promotion of slavery. I personally do not want my kids to be part of a system that promotes better academic outcomes for white children. All of our children are amazing and capable of academic growth. It’s time to remove the barrier of institutionalized racism. Our kids are watching and learning from us.

      1. Case in Point

        The author [JJS] is the one who seems to have low expectations of black students. JJS seems to feel they can’t keep up
        JJS seems to absolve the parents—then where is the problem ? Oh I know, “everything is racism.”  The black and other students have been in the same class rooms and teachers for years [of course some wanted to put a new school in the 5th to increase segregation].  If the teachers are bad—for all or any, fight to get them fired—don’t just claim that there must be racism..
        All this comparison to slavery is bunk–it is not even close to the problem.   Are the parents supporting their kids ? are they making sure they do their studies before sports and social media ? are the making sure they attend school each day ? are they preparing  and making sure they take advanced course ?
        I instead claim they are of equality ability and need to be treated as if they can succeed without saying they need ‘special treatment’ and excuses like JJS implies. 

        1. Case in Point
          Hello, you missed many of the major points in my previous comment. I’m not sure why that is.

          Your experiences with the Evanston school system are definitely different than my experiences. The fact that you seem to dismiss the experiences of children of color in School District 65 says so much about you.

          I am committed to ensuring that every child gets the best education in Evanston.

          We don’t need to agree that racism negatively impacts the education that all children receive in our schools. There are many reports that prove this point. The kids are sharing their experiences.

          If your kid had the same experiences you would be demanding that things be done differently.

          You should attend a Beyond Diversity training. You might begin to understand the plight of people of color in America.

          Kids of color with educated professional parents do not do as well as white kids with access to the same opportunities. Do you still blame the parents that provide their kids with similar experiences as your children. Those parents are guilty of being black!!! Wake up!

          I know it’s hard for you to understand. Fortunately, we have courageous leaders in Evanston that think differently than you. They believe in every child. With or without your consent , Evanston is moving forward.

          1. Starting a dialogue

            I know several middle-income minority families whose children graduated from D65 schools and did very well academically.  So I cannot agree that every minority child in D65 does not receive a quality education.

            Let’s start a dialogue.  Can you provide specific examples of how minority children in D65 have been affected by racism?  Is it racist teachers, administrators or staff?  The course content itself?  Discipline?

            For those of us who truly want to understand your position and the basis for it, please respond.  To move forward, we need to know the facts so that we can move forward in the best possible way.

            Reports nationwide show lower achievement by African-American students as a group.  What specific examples can you cite from your children’s recent experience in D65 (say, in the past 10 years) that will help us understand why the achievement numbers are what they are here.  Please feel free to leave out specifically identifying information, such as names of individuals and schools. 

            I look forward to hearing from you and anyone else who can give specific examples.  Then let’s discuss how this information will be shared with the D65 administration for consideration and action.


          2. Dialogue

            Hello The Original Anon,

            Please go online and watch the last two District 65 Board Meetings.  I would also watch the meeting from December of 2016.  Thanks for seeking the truth.

          3. The REAL racism

            You say “Kids of color with educated professional parents do not do as well as white kids with access to the same opportunities. Do you still blame the parents that provide their kids with similar experiences as your children. Those parents are guilty of being black!!! Wake up!”

            So I take that you don’t think they can learn as well no matter what—good parents, educated parents. THAT is real racism.

      2. Please clarify

        There is no tracking in Disrict 65 in elementary school and the only tracking that occurs from K through 8th grade is in math.  In other words, our children are all in the same classrooms.  After the board’s vote on Monday, the only exception to this now will be advancement for a small percentage of students in math, the most obvious example being 8th graders who take geometry.  This “acceleration” benefits all students who have mastered algebra.  Are you in favor of getting ride of 8th grade geomtry since all 8th graders are not in the same math class?  Are you in favor of getting rid of all options so that students are forced to proceed, lock-step, in the same classrooms as all their peers through high school?  

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