Administrators of both Evanston school districts presented new reports at a joint school board meeting Monday night that still show half to three-quarters of black and Hispanic students in grades 3-11 reading below grade level.

After setting a goal in January 2014 “that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach the 12th grade,” members of the District 65 and District 202 school boards have been frustrated by the lack of progress toward meeting that goal.

Different assessments are used in the two districts and two years ago the boards asked for reporting that would allow them to see what progress students are making as they progress through elementary, middle and high school grades. 

Last night’s joint literacy goal update combines data from both districts for the class of 2022 (currently high school sophomores) showing that the two assessments “are largely measuring grade level literacy in a comparable manner” and the administrations are comfortable using the data to measure progress.

However the data shows that 36-50% of all students in grades 3-11 are not reading at grade level, with a much higher percentage (up to 79%) of black and Hispanic students failing to meet grade level thresholds. 

District 202 board member Gretchen Livingston said she appreciated the new report while being disturbed by its substance and asked if administrators had noticed anything in the data for the first time. 

Peter Bavis, ETHS assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that Table 8 shows median data for grades 9-11. The median for students meeting grade level scores is 12 or 13, the highest grade possible in the assessment, while the median for students who don’t meet the standard ranges from 6 to 8. “That influences the supports and summer programming we offer,” he said. 

With the median, “we can look at the distance to the goal,” said Stacy Beardsley, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for District 65. “We can isolate that group and work on progress toward the goal.”

“There’s a lot of data for the individual school teams to determine actionable strategies,” said Kylie Klein, District 65 director of research, accountability and data. 

Some board members asked for more data, going back to 2014 when the literacy goal was set, to help evaluate progress. Others asked for information on what strategies and programs are working so that those can be scaled up and repeated. 

Still others want to focus on looking at the whole child to determine why they are struggling and find ways to get the community involved in supporting students and families.

“We’ve gotten so much into the data that we’ve lost the student,” said Pat Savage-Williams, D202 school board president. “This isn’t new data. It doesn’t surprise me but it upsets me tremendously. The cycles keep repeating themselves.”

“We put this literacy goal in place in 2014,” she said. “It’s now 2020. When do we start working on it? How do we hold everybody accountable? This is our reality. The rubber meets the road right here.”

“Lack of surprise does not mean lack of outrage,” said Elisabeth Lindsay-Ryan, D65 board member. “What’s working? We want to hear from the experts. Our goal is to fund the things that are working.” 

Related stories

School boards settle on literacy progress reporting (2/17/2019)

School boards frustrated by literacy report (11/1/2018)

Join the Conversation


  1. Scores drop right after 8th grade

    Bavis, Campbell, and Witherspoon should be fired after a report like this. They have an English department that had to be told to teach books, but they aren’t allowed to quiz kids or make them take off their headphones. Meanwhile, the history department is taking kids out of school for whole days to see movies. And this is a school that gets praised for detracking and putting every kid possible into AP classes? What an embarrassment. At least the math department still seems to be trying.

  2. Not another disappointing report

    I appreciate the transparency in letting us know where we stand.  We spend so much more per student compared to the rest of the state and rest of the country, that lack of resources is not the reason.  Maybe our focus should be on excellence instead of equity?

    1. Equity and Excellence can and should co-exist

      The disappointing academic results should be a catalyst for change. But change should and can be constructive change. One group of students shouldn’t benefit at the expense of another. As Superintendent Witherspoon once said, “Education isn’t a zero sum game.” However, leadership and management and execution of board goals has proven disappointing. ETHS should not compromise its goal of equity at the expense of excellence, nor should it compromise excellence at the expense of equity.

  3. The reign of Pat Savage-Williams must end

    As I recall, Pat  has been the President of the ETHS School Board since 2015.

    Pat has the audacity to ask, “How do we hold everybody accountable?”

    As President Truman said, “The Buck stops here.” Sadly the buck doesn’t stop with the President of the ETHS School Board.

    Time moves along, the seasons change in E-Town from Fall to Winter to Spring and then Summer, and yet as time passes, and the seasons change, ETHS students continue to be inadequately prepared for life beyond ETHS.

    The trends presented for ALL students is very concerning.

    But similar to trump, does it matter? Or will Pat be re-elected to serve as the President of ETHS School Board for another term?

    I vote for CHANGE !! ETHS students deserve better.

  4. New school report, more bad news

    Some of us “oldies” (I’ve been in Evanston 50 years) have seen the same bad statistics year after year.  And have listened to so many superintendents tell us with enormous certainty how the “New 3 Year Plan” was going to erase the gap and increase achievement for all.  But the gap continues, and the bad news continues as well.

    According to Northwestern University’s Community News, “…..around 200 students from ETHS graduate each year without further schooling plans, and 25% of those who go to college don’t make it through the first year.”

    However our taxes go up and up, as well as both districts’ salaries.

    There seems to be the notion that lowering standards on high level courses will allow more lower achievers into those courses. Rather than elevating the standards of low achievers so that more of them can be prepared for the higher level courses.  ETHS used to compete with New Trier and did beat them many times in the quality of courses and students performances. Not so today.

    Nothing will change until “educators” and board members admit what they know: that lack of PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT causes bad statistics.  And realize that it will continue bad as long as they don’t recognize that the programs they need to pay for are programs to EDUCATE a great deal of PARENTS on the absolute necessity that they:

    1) Create a home environment where education is given a priority and is considered an essential necessity for the happy and successful life of their children. 

    And until schools create:

    2) Starting in KINDERGARTEN, programs to EDUCATE PARENTS who are not aware of the absolute need for their participation in their children’s education, if they want them to succeed. And how they cannot expect the school to do miracles if they don’t become partners with the sdhool….

    And create:

    3) STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN, programs to educate IMMIGRANT PARENTS who come from countries with COMPLETELY DIFFERENT educational systems who are COMPLETELY unaware that THEY, AS PARENTS, MUST be involved in vital decisions regarding the SO MANY different options of different level courses and programs such as it DOESN’T EXIST in their back home educational systems, which will allow OR NOT their children to be accepted to college or to secure profitable jobs when they graduate.

    As an immigrant from S. America myself, I DIDN’T KNOW!  However I married an American citizen.  And what a shock it was when I found out about the rules of the game in American schools!  And how privileged to have been able to learn about it.

    If we check the homes of students who are achievers, no matter what their economic status, we will find involved parents and home environments conducive to good academic results.

    By disregarding the importance of parental involvement, which is proclaimed in every educational study ever published, we will continue paying more and more taxes for more and more failed programs that will produce more and more bad school reports.

    1. Evanston needs an INTENSE focus on Zero to 5

      If our community truly desires/demands/wants a reduction in the achievement gap and also wants to maintain high standards, then we need an INTENSE focus on Zero to 5. Early Childhood Development and experiences create a platform and enable future learning.

      Would you be willing to spend $200 million to build an office building without a strong, solid foundation? Of course not. BUT in Evanston we spend $200 million year after year after year on      K-12 education. How much is spent on Zero to 5 each and every year? Has anyone asked that question to our school superintendents and school board members?

      Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has a robust website with incredibly important information.

      Last night I listened to a fascinating podcast about how the brain develops.

      Please take the time to peruse their website, listen to a couple of podcasts and to look into other leading organizations like the Erikson Institute –

      Evanston needs to rethink how we approach child development and education else we’ll remain mired in our old ways and we’ll continue to get very similar results in the future.

      Our children, ALL children in Evanston deserve better.

      Let’s focus on Zero to 5.

      1. Not the Job of the Schools

        Of course the schools can and should provide outreach and orientation to parents.  And of course we want every child to be the best that they can be.  But, ultimately, it is not the job of the schools to make people better parents.  It is not the job of the schools to raise people’s children.  There are limits to what the schools can and should do and a limit to what taxpayers should be on the hook for — either through the school districts or the City of Evanston.  Zero to 5 sounds great, but at what cost?  Where does that money come from?  Where does a taxpayer’s responsibility end?

        Since everyone seems to know that early childhood development and a child’s home life are the major factors in how a child performs in school — maybe it’s time to stop blaming the achievement gap and other issues on racism and white supremacy.  Maybe it’s time to admit that it’s not tracking…or testing…or disciplinary actions…or the lack of an Afro-centric curriculum…or not having enough teachers of color…or not having a 5th Ward school.

        Maybe it’s time to stop throwing money against the wall in the name of Equity and hoping it sticks.

        1. We need to change our approach to education

          I DO NOT WANT, nor do I think it’s the job of the schools to raise other people’s kids.

          I advocate for using evidence based programs based on current research.

          Current research suggests that brain development begins even before birth.

          BUT our legacy educational systems start in Kindergarten, at age 5, and continue through 12th grade. And in Evanston, it’s reported that Kindergarten Readiness is FALLING. Another important milestone is Reading at Grade Level by 3rd grade. Students who struggle with reading, for a variety of reasons, lose interest in school and their future opportunities become limited.

          Part of my point is that if the past approach isn’t working, kids aren’t learning and reading and living up to their academic potential, then why aren’t we changing our approach? 

          We don’t have to throw money against the wall and hope it sticks, but we can and should support evidenced based programs that produce results. For example at Erie Family Health, there is a fabulous Reach Out & Read program. Google Reach Out & Read. It works – they get results. BUT, they need about $10,000 per year for books, and given their current funding of $3,000, not every child gets a book. Nicholas Kristoff wrote about Reach Out & Read, and by the way, it’s NOT just about reading, but as or more important it’s the time the parent and child spend together and the stronger relationship and bonds that are developed.

          And I also agree that we need to be fiscally prudent. BUT again, by focusing on programs that work and are effective, we can prune or eliminate other programs which aren’t producing their expected or hoped for results.

          Evanston needs to stop making excuses and chasing shiny objects.

    2. Not all children are above average.

      A more important real world statistic is how well children who attended ETHS attained satisfaction in life.

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