Despite years of special programs and efforts aimed at addressing the achievement gap between white and minority students at Evanston Township High School, recent results from the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) and other standardized tests indicate very little change in the disparity. The data was presented to the District 202 School Board on Oct. 9.
Although both white and minority students at ETHS score higher on average on the ACT than other students in Illinois and the nation, and even though ETHS students have shown an improvement in ACT scores over the years, disparities continue to persist.
Administrators presented a plethora of data, including student scores on the EXPLORE test taken in eighth grade and on the ACT, a college admissions test which is given as a part of PSAE and used by Illinois to evaluate whether the District is making adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. Illinois is one of only nine states to use the ACT for this purpose, which asks even non-college-bound students to take the test.
Administrators and Board members alike tried to focus on the positive by emphasizing progress made in Advanced Placement enrollment and test scores (see sidebar) and on gains made by Latino students on meeting standards on the PSAE in reading and math.
"We are very concerned about all of our students. … There are areas we need to improve," said Dr. Judith Levinson, director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment. "Sometimes we do a disservice by not pointing out some of the positive trends." She pointed out that the District is "well above national averages" but added, "… we aren’t doing as well as we would like."
Board President Mark Metz also made an effort to accentuate the positive and commended staff members for pursuing new initiatives to address problems. However, he still had to acknowledge that not only are black and Hispanic students starting high school with scores below white students across the four subjects measured by EXPLORE (English, math, reading and science), they also make less progress over the time they are in high school, as indicated by the scores on the ACT.
For example, for the cohort of students who took the EXPLORE test in December 2008 as eighth-graders and the PSAE in 2012, the average reading score on the EXPLORE test for black students was 13.4. Hispanic students scored an average of 14.2 on that test, and white students had an average reading score of 18.6.
By the time that cohort took the PSAE, black students had an average reading score of 17.3, Hispanic students, 18.4 and white students, 27.1. The increases were 3.9 points (a 29% gain) for black students, 4.2 points (a 30% gain) for Hispanic students, and 8.5 points (a 46% gain) for white students. The other tested areas – English, math and science – showed similar disparities.
Because EXPLORE and the ACT are scored using a continuous grading scale, increases in scores between the tests are expected to reflect normal growth. An ACT study found that students who score lower on the EXPLORE test make lower gains in scores, on average, between the EXPLORE and ACT tests than do students who start out with higher scores on EXPLORE.
The accompanying chart shows 8th grade EXPLORE scores for math and reading and the gain between the EXPLORE scores and the ACT scores for the cohort of ETHS 11th graders who took the ACT as part of the PSAE in 2012.
Composite scores on the ACT have not changed appreciably for blacks, Hispanics or whites over the past five years: in 2007-08, black students had a composite score of 17.6, Hispanic students 18.1 and white students 27.0. Scores in these groups in2011-12 were 18.0, 19.3 and 27.6 respectively.
Administrators said that increased articulation with District 65, new leadership in the English department with expertise in literacy, broader availability of ACT test-preparation opportunities, the redesign of freshman humanities and biology were among the initiatives in place to address the continuing disparity in student performance.