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Evanston Drops Top-Tier High School Course

EVANSTON, Ill. (STMW) -- The School Board at Evanston Township High School took a bold step Monday toward dismantling the tracking system by eliminating honors-only sections in freshman humanities for the 2011-12 school year.

Board members refuted critics who said the move would undermine the experience of high achievers, who are equally entitled to a rigorous curriculum that addresses their needs.

"I am confident that high-achieving students will have a stronger experience in mixed-level classes," said School Board president Rachel Hayman, noting that students will benefit from the diversity of perspectives and will be motivated to work harder under the "earned honors" system.

"We know the approach we have taken in the past has not worked for a large number of students," said Hayman. "Continuing to do the same thing that has not worked in the past is not acceptable."

Currently, about 200 ninth-graders who score at or above the 95th percentile on an eighth-grade exam are placed in straight honors sections, while a broad spectrum of students between the 40th and 94th percentiles are enrolled in mixed-level classes.

After three hours of comments, the board voted 7-0 to approve Superintendent Eric Witherspoon's proposal to "restructure the freshman experience" by placing nearly all ninth-grade students in 1 Humanities classes. Administrators pledge that the double-period course, which combines English and history, will be taught at the honors level and will be aligned with the Advanced Placement offerings available to upperclass students.

The following year, honors-only sections will be eliminated in freshman biology.

"This is not a plan to water down instruction at ETHS. It is not a secret plot to eliminate honors and Advanced Placement classes at ETHS," Witherspoon said.

The proposal, he said, will open more opportunities to more students, particularly students who've been unprepared to access rigorous classes later in high school.

Administrators predict that 72 percent of students enrolled in 1 Humanities will end up earning honors credit under the system, which will be based on student assessments. The estimate is drawn from the number of students who now earn honors credit in mixed-level and straight honors sections.

"It is a mistake to assume that more students are not capable of doing honors-level work," said Witherspoon. "I believe we can raise the achievement of all students while eliminating the racial predictability of student achievement."

Parent Mindy Wallis presented the School Board with a petition, signed by more than 430 people, asking the board to defer action until a three-year evaluation of a mixed-level humanities initiative is completed. In 2008, the school folded a broader spectrum of students into mixed-level freshman humanities classes, while reserving straight honors sections for students scoring at or above the 95th percentiles.

-- Pioneer Press, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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