A philosophical divide split the Evanston Township High School District 202 School Board that accepted a reluctant surrender Monday night by the administration over the fate of earned honors courses at the sophomore level.
“We respectfully withdraw our recommendation for incorporating the earned honors model in World History for Us All and Geometry in Construction,” announced Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
His statement brought immediate praise from board member Jonathan Baum, an advocate for waiting to evaluate the concept before it is broadened to other courses at the school.
“I fully agree that it is unsound to extend elements of the freshman restructuring to other grade levels and subjects unless and until our outside evaluation, based on external measures, demonstrate these changes in fact increases student achievement for students at all ability levels,” Baum said.
Earned honors is a concept whereby regular and honors students are taught in the same classroom, but honors credit, which adds half a point when determining a student’s grade point average, is bestowed only upon those students who do extra work or perform at a higher level than the students earning regular credit.
The alternative is to designate in advance whether a student is in the class for honors or regular credit, based upon criteria such as scores on standardized tests, performance in earlier grades, and faculty recommendations.
The school had embarked on the earned-honors concept with Freshman Humanities in the 2010-2011 school year, following a lengthy public debate that occurred during the school board election campaign two years ago that generated heated comments from parents of incoming freshmen.
The theory was that many students, particularly racial minorities, are tracked at a lower level while they are still in middle school. By putting them in a mixed-ability classroom when they enter the high school as freshmen, they have the opportunity to overcome past experiences and can gain a foothold for success later in their high school careers.
The philosophical question that dogged the board was whether they should wait until they receive positive evidence that the new concept is working before it is expanded to other courses.
Board President Mark Metz favors what he calls a continuous-improvement model that calls for continually looking for ways to improve teaching, assessment, and curriculum while collecting evaluation information data “and keep improving as we go.”
Otherwise, he said, “we’re going back to a system that we know is flawed…that we know has serious problems” while waiting for the data to come in.
“I don’t see why we would want our administration to go to their backup plan,” he said, “rather than the plan that they believe…and our teachers believe…is in the best interests of our students.”
Baum countered that, without the data, “we don’t know if it is an improvement or not.”
As for the present, the wait-and-see faction has won the argument.