You’ve made reducing the racial predictability of achievement an outstanding top priority. Still, “changing the structure of a school system” should force a deep search for strong evidence. Like Supt. Pruitt-Adams said to the audience on Sept. 18, you might not like what I’m about to say about the evidence, so please remember to keep an open mind.
Choosing to slow down and study what did and didn’t work at Evanston is especially valuable since their work on detracking was supported by Northwestern University, a top-ten graduate school of education. Another reason to slow down is found in the unaccomplished evidence provided by the administration. Of all the resources on the district website, there is just one involving detracking at ETHS, a news article written by Peter Bavis, associate superintendent. Should we be surprised the article proclaims, “It Works”? More recently, results from this source have been cited as evidence by administrators in information sessions at feeder middle schools.
The news article attaches the conclusion to one data table showing the percentage of composite ACT scores above 24 for 2011 to 2015. Why did Mr. Bavis pick a composite ACT score of 24 as a benchmark for showing growth? It may be because raw ETHS composite ACT data show a 30-year upward trend of about 0.1 points/year. The average ACT scores would have risen from 23.0 in 2011 to 23.4 in 2015 without implementing new policy. The average composite ACT score in 2015 was 23.9, pushing many over a table’s 24 point cutoff. ACT scores declined the year after 2015 to 23.3 which is in line with the normal upward trend. Factoring the normal upward trend in composite ACT scores, the table shows what might have happened had ETHS not implemented new policy on curriculum and instruction. Further, the 2015 year was abnormal for the most disadvantaged ETHS students.
Using the IL BOE Report Card data and comparing 2011 to 2015 we see the four-year graduation rate for black students declined from 85.4% to 80.2%, respectively. For economically disadvantaged students as a group the graduation rate declined from 88.3% to 81.0%. Still, the graduation rate for students with disabilities fell from 77.4% to 66.3%. The cause for declines in graduation rate among these groups and between these two years isn’t clear, but the likely effect is an abnormal rise in composite ACT scores in 2015.
On the favorable side, the graduation rates for Hispanic students increased from 85.6% to 87.1%. If we account for the abnormality of 2015, the table shows what might have happened had ETHS not implemented new policy on curriculum and instruction.
My concern is whether the administration is using an appropriately high bar to judge the value of evidence supporting the theory detracking will reduce the racial predictability of achievement. News articles like this, if not investigated fully, can mislead others into following the wrong data, the wrong conclusions and stands to lead our board and our community in the wrong direction.
Someone said recently that you can be for equity and still be suspicious of the initiative. I believe slowing down, doing more research on ETHS and alternative approaches using a broader group and involving public hearings is crucial before implementing any plan. Evanston tested the theory that detracking will reduce the racial predictability of achievement, and dependence on Mr. Bavis’ news article as evidence is careless if not also dubious. The gap in Evanston is as wide now as it was before and we can learn from this experiment.
Making time for study stands to preserve the integrity of our school system despite change, and this is in the best interest of our community. I urge you to put this research and communication challenge before the D200 administration.
Steve Lefko is a River Forest resident.