D65 and D202 board members at their joint meeting Tuesday night.

A member of the District 202 Board of Education had a message Tuesday night for her counterparts from District 65 — you are sending us a lot of students who are not ready for high school.

In a board joint meeting, ETHS board member Gretchen Livingston said, “We have too many kids arriving at ETHS who can’t read at grade level.”

District 202 board member Gretchen Livingston.

Because of that, ETHS has had to provide remedial literacy work, and even create a science class that incorporates reading skills required to understand the material.

While Livingston indicated it is critical that ETHS provide such support for students who are behind academically, she also asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if they were ready at a higher level when they came through the door?”

Statistics presented at the meeting indicated about 75 freshmen are receiving additional reading support, including about 60 who are in the reading-focused science class.

ETHS Board Vice-president Monique Parsons said she understood the need for extra help, but said “this is sad to me” that some kids are not at grade level entering ETHS.

Parsons said, “I don’t get excited about a literacy lab in high school…. This breaks my heart….”

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton noted that 75 freshmen is about 10% of the students D65 sends to ETHS annually Considering the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, Horton said, that’s “pretty good data.”

Horton also indicated that changes are coming.

“We have been using a resource/curriculum that does not teach the science of reading,” he explained.

That curriculum has been in place for at least a dozen years, but new research and theories of learning, he indicated, are calling for something else.

So the district plans to adopt a new reading curriculum.

The D65 superintendent also said a number of recently-developed programs have helped raise student performance, such as Academic Skills Centers, tutoring that focuses on recovering pandemic-related learning loss.

As those students enter high school, it will be possible to track how each child does, to see if the D65 tutoring has had a long-term impact.

It’s also vital to start young, Horton said, so that perhaps a 5th grader won’t need tutoring if the child gets off to a good beginning at an earlier age.

D65 Board President Sergio Hernandez said that after the system implemented a strategic plan, kindergarten readiness among early childhood students (pre-K) jumped from 31% to 74% over a three-year period.

There is, of course, controversy in education over the use of standardized test scores. Preparation has often been described as “drill and kill,” but teachers and administrators have no choice but to take part. Those are the state’s rules.

Hernandez recalled that when he was a teacher, “we stopped teaching” to administer the standardized exams.

“I had kids crying. All I could do was test. I want to see this change.”

Which, of course, puts educators in a dilemma. They are required to take part in a standardized-test-driven reality which many of them question. Teachers say tests are needed, of course, to see where student improvement is needed. That’s one way to find out if, say, a student needs remedial reading as part of a science class.

But the “drop everything, it’s standardized test time,” and then the public emphasis on “which school is doing better” is, to some educators, counterproductive.

“Children are more than test scores,” Hernandez said.

“We need to expand the ways to measure academic and social-emotional success,” he said.

But that may be a long-term proposition.

District 65 board vice-president Biz Lindsay-Ryan said that new programs, the new D65 administration, and “incredible investments in equity” in the elementary and middle schools should “yield improvement” over several years.

But things like “it will take some time” have been heard before.

For now, the pressure is on to get those test scores up.

District 65 board member Joey Hailpern said “I get that we need to manage change. I get that there was a pandemic.”

“But kids only get one school experience,” Hailpern added, saying there needs to be a “sense of urgency.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. I commend the district 202 board for calling out the incompetency of district 65.

    I can only hope that the voters express their disappointment by tossing out the current district 65 school board. The problem is, of course, there need to be competent individuals to run against them.

  2. According to The Lucy Project

    If a child is not reading at grade level by fourth grade, they are statistically likely to remain illiterate throughout their life.

    A child who is a poor reader at the end of first grade has a 90% chance of being a poor reader at the end of fourth grade. A child who has not learned to read well by the end of fourth grade is dramatically more likely to drop out of high school.

    Children who are not reading well by fourth grade are three times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than their literate peers. 75% of prison inmates have low literacy or dropped out of high school. 85% of youth offenders struggle to read.

    Here’s an immediate fix for this problem. If a student isn’t reading at grade level at District 65 he/she does not graduate to District 202. He/she repeats the grade and tries again next year.

  3. This says it all. And I fear it’s only going to get worse. D202 Admin & BOE need to fear that also. Everyone in Evanston should be ready to VOTE D65 BOE INCUMBENTS OUT in April. It’s the only way this starts to turn around. Current members are nothing more than rubber stamps for their Administration. They seem to have forgotten their fiduciary duty to the people that elect them (well, elect some of them since their recent clever scheme seems to be to resign a position & appoint a new person mid-term; bypassing the voter). Also, there are two other things you can do in addition to voting in April: (1) follow T. Hayden’s substack called FOIA GRAS — where Hayden details the responses he’s getting to FOIA requests he’s submitting to the districts and (2) subscribe to Evanston Schools Update. Pass this on & ask your friends, family and neighbors to do the same. It’s way past time that every day Evanstonians wake up to what is happening in our town. Enough Is enough!

  4. Once again, D65 fails at something and tries to spin it differently. How many poorly prepared students enter D202 because 65 just “kicked the can” and hoped 202 would fix it?

  5. Horton says it’s vital to start young so PERHAPS a 5th grader won’t need tutoring!!! I’m sure even with his PH D he doesn’t know that in Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade children are learning to read. Starting in Third grade they are reading to learn. To learn social studies, science and literature.

  6. As an 86 year old avid reader for more than 80 years I wonder if there is someway I could help promote love of reading with Evanston school children.

  7. The reason for a drop in reading began when the curriculum changed from sounding out words to a “whole word” method pushed by Lucy Caukins who made a fortune on a method not scientifically validated. Listen to a Podcast, “Stop the Story,” and reading scores will soar.

    1. Yes, the person responsible for the change is Lucy Calkins, not Caulkins. She has since agreed to add to her curriculum methods of decoding words, however, most school districts still use her outdated methods with primary students not learning to read.

  8. Literacy levels between D202 and D65 have been an issue since 2014, They can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for falling literacy and test scores, and the achievement gap that started to widen well before March of 2020. Nor can they blame the pandemic for the expensive and confusing math curriculum changes that have occurred (including middle school math now being taught exclusively via iPad) that have failed to improve math outcomes. I’d like to know why Dr. Horton and the school board haven’t asked for resignations from high-level district administrators who were in place before he was hired. Why are assistant superintendents who presided over years of pre-pandemic declines are still employed at District 65?

  9. Maybe it is time to unify the two districts in our city. It will hold both districts accountable and save our tax payer money!

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