Evanston Township High School board members differed sharply this week on how to interpret trends in performance of black and Hispanic students on the ACT college admissions exam.

A report and presentation to the board shows overall ACT composite scores have improved more than two points since 1972, with the highest composite score of 23.9 achieved in 2015.

The current national average score on the ACT is 21.

Though “we still see disparate outcomes” based on race, “trends are positive for all subgroups,” said Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, referring to charts, like the one above, that show scores from 2007 through 2017.

Board member Mark Metz saw the report as encouraging, saying “we’re going in the right direction.”

Board member Jonathan Baum agreed that there has been significant progress in some areas. However, he added, “saying we have made significant growth across all subgroups is not quite correct.”

Baum noted that if data for the period 2009 through 2017 were charted instead (as shown below), it would show a decline in the performance trendline for black students.

“This does not look to me like progress,” Baum said.

He added that the district’s report shows no improvement between 2011 and 2017 in the percentage of black students who scored a 24 or higher on the ACT — the score they’d need to be in the top quarter of all students taking the test.

And on that measure the percentage of Hispanic students making the cutoff fell from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2017.

“It isn’t simply that there’s a gap. It isn’t that everyone is getting better. It’s more fundamental than that. We have not cracked this nut,” he said.

“It’s important to maintain our credibility,” he said. “We can’t really grapple with a challenge unless we’re willing to admit it continues to be a really daunting challenge and we don’t sugarcoat it.”

“I agree with you one hundred percent,” said Monique Parsons, board vice president, “when we can start having conversations about the non-school factors.”

“It is so much deeper than what we’re talking about,” she said. “I’m very appreciative of what our school is doing to be creative and keep pushing. But there are community factors that play into this gap that as a board we have not discussed.”

“I don’t think we’ve reached a point to say we are there,” said Pat Savage-Williams, board president. “I’m looking for trends.”

She noted that community factors and societal factors go back hundreds of years and ETHS keeps fighting but the gap is still there. She challenged the notion that the board should be dissatisfied with ETHS because the gap is still there.

“The challenges are persistent and deep and they’re not going to go away just because we take Beyond Diversity,” she said. “I with that’s all it could be.”

“We’re looking for upward trends,” she said again. “We have to recognize what we’re doing and keep doing it. We have to be persistent and work as a team.”

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon noted that a recent report on the reading program showed that the reading proficiency of incoming black and Hispanic students varies widely and has been as low as 22 percent reading at grade level.

“We have to look at all the factors,” he said, including some we don’t control. “It could be fewer students are entering the high school proficient in reading and we’re still getting that modest gain. That’s why we hired an army of reading specialists.”

“I was not talking about causation,” said Baum. “I was just talking about acknowledging the reality. I’m just reading what it says. It says significant progress for all subgroups” and the data doesn’t show that.

“It has to be taken in context,” Metz responded.

“Every time we look at the data I see that black students are at the bottom,” said Savage-Williams. “That’s why we’re doing the work. We keep challenging the administration about what else we can do. We aren’t done. We continue to take it on.”

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ETHS boosts participation in AP exams (11/3/2018)

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  1. Education

    Simple question.  If 78% of a group (any group) is not performing at grade level, how do they get passed to the next grade? 

    If a student is not able to be proficient in the material being taught, why do we pass the student to the next level?

    In effect, the high school is blaming D65 for the problem.

    Besides economies of scale, the ability to hold one school board, one administration accountable for the K-12 education of our students is yet another reason why the districts should be merged.

  2. Mr. Baum’s interpretation is wrong

    I have appreciated Mr. Baum’s service on both the D202 and D65 boards, but in this case I think his interpretation is incorrect.  The ACT scores in 2009 were an outlier on the high side for both white and black students.  If he chose to start his trend fit in that year *because* it was an outlier then he is overfitting the data and misinterpretting the data.  If you pick 2010 and forward then the trend in scores for black students in nearly flat (not statistically signficant from no trend).

    With so few data points it is easy to get very different trend lines by selecting different start and end points.  IMO the most reasonable approach would be to use all of the data.    Having said that, a better model might be possible by accounting for more variables besides year.  There is more to ACT score than race and year.  For example they could include GPA, attendance records, detention/suspention rates, overall scores in the country, etc.  The variation in score may or may not have anything to do with what the school is doing as there are other variables which influence the average score outcomes.

  3. What Board Vice President Monique Parsons said

    I’m absolutely in agreement with board member Monique Parsons that “It is so much deeper than what we’re talking about…..there are community factors that play into this gap that as a board we have not discussed.”

    Indeed the involvement of parents is the most important factor. A home atmosphere supportive of and actually extolling  learning and education is a huge factor. And the organization OPAL is not helping by asking, “why is the district not educating our children.”  The districts offer the way to an education.  But they cannot force any child to accept it and use it.  There has to be a household involvement. 

    I know –because I am Hispanic myself—that Hispanic parents are not used in their homeland to interfere in their children education.  I don’t remember my mom ever going to my school in Uruguay to find out how I was doing.  Or to ask them why is my child not in an advanced class.  Or, if it had happened in Evanston, “Why are you enrolling my child in TWI where they don’t get the same opportunities than in the regular classes. Why are you teaching my kindergartner in Spanish! 90% of the time!!!  When this is the time in his/her life when her/his brain is like a sponge ravenous for information. And, “we didn’t come to this country to perfect our own language!”  Or, “why isn’t my child enrolled in Honors or AP.”  And most of all, “why, after 9 years in D.65 does my child need remedial courses in basic subjects at ETHS, such as reading!!!”

    No, Hispanic parents are not used to interfering. And besides, they have probably very little idea about giving support or extolling when many have very little education themselves. And not speaking English well, they are embarrassed about talking to teachers, or to go to battle for their child.  And from what OPAL says, maybe some African American parents need some coaching in those areas also.

    So what should the districts do that is SO VISIBLE rather than year after year after tens of years…spend taxpayers moneys in useless programs invented by “experts” sometimes from as far as California?  They should invest in programs for parents of course!  I have known such programs in other schools and they are incredibly effective.

    But they don’t dare. They are afraid to be called “racist.”  So they’d rather let it go as is.

    Or, they should invest in a STEM school for the 5th ward, as a group of African American and Hispanic parents are desperately trying to get done.  Ever since the 60’s (I came to this country in 1966)  the 5th Ward has been without a community school, shut down by the school district to effect…..desegregation. A school that everybody there loved and had connection to. Has “desegregation” been effective?  Are the gaps and statistics any better?  You know what they say about trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    For a period, in the past, one solution was to put students who were not performers in a program called “Special Ed…” which was not included in the district’s statistics sent to the Springfield.  Yes, I saw it with my own eyes and knew the teachers in charge.  It was a tragedy.

    Then of course as long as I remember there were those Mickey Mouse courses that allowed underperformers to “graduate” from high school.  An African American friend of mine who desperately wanted her kid to go to college once told me, so excited, my kid has enrolled in a Chemistry course!!!  I asked her the name of the course.  So I went to the text distribution office and asked the lady in charge to see the text book and program.  And as I already suspected it was all about soap bubbles and such.  We in Evanston should be more involved and it is a shame to ALL of us to allow this to go on. And it has been a horrible shame to all the board members through the years that allowed this to continue.  We must support  D202 Vice president Monique Parsons because she has hit the right button.

    And finally, the words of a D65 board member, Judith Sirinsky who said, Oct 21, 1991: “I walked through that door, the door of 1314 Ridge almost 12 years ago, with a 40% which nobody knew about because we weren’t telling anybody!  But it was there and I’m walking out the door 12 years later and we still got that same darn gap. We’ve got a lot of highly paid professional educators in this district. We haven’t done anything about it.”

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