Putting regular and honors students in the same classrooms at Evanston Township High School has failed to improve performance of African-American and Latino students, according to Deborah Graham, who is running for a second term on the District 202 School Board.

At the kickoff Sunday of her campaign for reelection to the board in April, Graham cited figures presented to the board at its Dec. 10, 2012, meeting that indicated that more than half the minority students received a C grade or lower, while more than 80 percent of the white students received an A or a B grade in the freshman humanities course.

Specifically, the data in the agenda packet for the December meeting stated that 28.9 percent of black students received a C and 34.9 percent received a D or F grade.

Comparable percentages for Latino students were 29.1 for a C grade and 25.3 for a D or F.

For white students, only 11.2 percent received a C and 5.2 percent a D or F. The remaining 83.6 percent of white students received an A or B grade.

The administration, however, expressed reluctance at releasing what it termed “soft data” before it had received “hard data,” such as standardized test scores, Advanced Placement numbers, and college acceptance rates.

Making interpretations of the soft data alone, according to the administration’s memorandum, “is ill-advised and irresponsible.”

It quoted Dr. David Figlio of Northwestern University, who has been working with the board and administration to evaluate the success of the mixed-classes experiment, as saying that “evaluating a program’s success on the basis of subjective measures such as course grades or fraction earning honors is dangerous because these factors are in the direct control of individuals who might have a personal stake in seeing a program succeed or fail.”

Figlio added in the memo that the board should “use only rigorous evaluation data to make decisions about the program.”

Graham said Sunday that putting regular students in the same classroom as honors students requires a high level of skill in what educators call “differentiated instruction” on the part of teachers.

“I will oppose the expansion” of mixed-level classes,” she said, “until differentiated instruction is fully implemented.”

On other issues, Graham said the school needs to determine how to bring down its truancy rate, which has expanded from 6 percent to 12 percent in the last six years, and that it needs to do more to encourage students who are not college-bound to seek out opportunities for advanced career and technical training after high school.

She also called for better articulation between the elementary and middle schools in District 65 and the high school, particularly in the area of writing proficiency.

Vowing to be committed to “data-driven decision-making,” Graham said  “I am not afraid to ask hard questions of the administration.”

The practice of doing away with honors-only classes at the freshman level has been a controversial one since advocated two years ago by Superintendent Eric Witherspoon as a means of enabling minority students to avoid being frozen out of the opportunity to succeed at the high school, based primarily upon test results in the middle school.

Some parents and board members have expressed fears that high-achieving students are in danger of being placed in classes where the curriculum is watered down in order to meet the needs of regular students.

To receive honors credit that boosts one’s grade point average, a student is required to meet higher performance criteria than needed for regular credit. Advocates of this approach refer to them as “earned-honors” classes.

Top: Incumbent Graham chats with voters at campaign kickoff.

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. No vote for Graham

    Since originally running, Graham has always been against giving children of color the same academic advantages as white students and has been opposed to the mixed-classes structure. Since she (and others on and/or running for Board seats) are set on keeping the un-leveled academic environment and are "not" working to help "all" students have the same education at ETHS, she and the others should not get votes to stay on the Board. This is 2013 people – every ETHS student deserves an excellent education not just "certain" children. Do NOT vote for Graham!

    1. Rely on data and vote for Graham

      I don't see any facts that Graham is "against giving children of color the same academic advantages as white students."  On the contrary.  She is looking at data to support the argument that the scheme of the mixed-class structure has not helped advance the education of minority students.

      That's data.  Not emotion.  And definitely not the racist hocus pocus pitched by PEG.

      Please explain how children of color are not given the same academic advantages as white students?  The fact that many of them are not reading at or above grade level and not doing math at or above grade level does not establish the cause(s) of that tragedy.

      Could it be that when many minority children report on day 1 at ETHS, they are not reading at or above grade level and they are not doing math at or above grade level?  That is the data coming out of D65 and those are facts.

      Here's my suggestion:  figure out how to stop D65 from sending under-prepared students to ETHS.  The best approach would be focused and intense intervention with students beginning in 1st grade.  D202 and D65 need to work together so that we can stop having under-prepared minority students show up at ETHS with no chance of succeeding in rigorous courses.

      Ever hear that saying — the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  The current pattern of sending under-prepared students from D65 to ETHS and expecting them to succeed at ETHS in rigorous courses is insanity.  I look forward to voting for candidates like Graham who use data to make sound choices for our children.


  2. Playing the racism card again

    Are we going to drag out, once again, the tired old line that anybody who wants "equity" initatives to be validated by data is a bigot?

    Hasn't this approach been used to stifle serious debate on educational inititaives long enough?

    I defy the author of the last post to point to a single instance when Ms. Graham has stated — or even implied — that children of color don't deserve the same opportunity for an excellent education.

    (Note to poster:  Ms. Graham voted for the Humanities restructuring, not against it.)  What an Orwellian world:  For complaining that a program isn't living up to what it promised to do for childen of color, you get to be called a  racist.  Vote for Graham — and other board candidates who think like her.

  3. No vote for the study or graham’s erred reliance on it

    So, it's not a surprise that the students didn't do well in class.

    Given that the Black and Latino students weren't given access to these classes until later in their educational career, how do we know that they were adequately prepared to do well in these classes. There is usually a build up to taking honors classes that can start as early as 3rd grade (some say even earlier)–as part of understanding the problem here, the public really does need to have access to some of the "hard" data mentioned in this article.

    I don't know about voting for this candidate, but this is an error that is made often–you have to provide support with challenge–this would be true of most people, right?

    1. Graham tells it like it is

      Maybe he didn't intend to, but this poster underscores precisely the point Graham is making about the inadequacy of the "restructured" freshman year at ETHS.  Its "one size fits all" approach presumes that 9th graders who arrive at ETHS with vastly different levels of academic competency should all be taught the same stuff and in the same way.  Sadly, the "building up to taking honors" from 3rd grade or earlier comes in Evanston/Skokie homes, not in District 65 (which, like the freshman restructuring, treats all students as interchangeable).  Let's start meeting individual student needs from the beginning and keep it going K-12..

  4. Virtually no honors before high school
    K Venegas says black and latino students weren’t given access to honors classes before freshman year. No one is given access to honors classes before freshman year except for math.

    Through eighth grade in District 65, all classes are the same – no honors – and all kids are in the same classes (again, with the exception of math in middle school).

  5. Not a one-room schoolhouse

    ETHS is NOT a "one room schoolhouse…"   The sheer size of the student population alone indicates the need for differentiated learning and teaching, so that ALL students can be challenged and succeed, in classroom environments equipped with the teaching and curriculum that is appropriate for their group of students…..     NOT in mixed "one size fits all" classes.

  6. Look at grade distribution before mixed honors too

    Back to Deborah's point about minority studetns not doing as well as whites in the earned honors classes: that's true, but it's also true that minority students weren't doing as well as white students acorss the board, even before the freshman restructuring. If you look at the Annual Statisical Report for 2011/2012, Grade Distribution by Ethnicity, you'll see:


                                C                              D                               F

    Black                  25                              13                              7

    Hispanic             22                              11                              8

    White                  10                                3                              1


    Compare that to the numbers Deborah cites above; yes, the minority kids are getting somewhat worse grades than they were, but is this really evidence that taking honors is "failing"  them? After all, a C in a difficult, challenging class is more valuable and more of an achievement than a C in an easy class.

    Clearly we have a long way to go towards making mixed honors successful, but the grades cited are not evidence that the program is a failure.

    1. How many must fail?

      34% of African American kids get a D or F. This means that they are not learning the curriculum.

      How many kids must fail before an earned honors method is deemed not working to improve the performance of African American kids?  More than 50%?

      Private school looks great right now.

    2. Consider this

      Wouldn't an A in a regular class be better than a C in a mixed class.  For those that hope to go to college the C really hurts the grade point.

    3. What?

      This data is of all students, all levels. You can't really use this sort of data to refute data from a specific grade level course. You might as well use the PISA data from the UN.

      You would have to go back to the specific data that was used to help make the decision to change the course as Ms. Graham has done.

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