Report reveals causes of racial gap at ETHS

Chris Kirk

Minority students at Evanston Township High School have scored consistently lower on standardized tests than their white peers, and a school-commissioned study released this month attempts to explain why.

A new study suggests teachers are part of the problem at ETHS, where racial inequity has long been a problem.

Hispanic and black students, which respectively constitute 36 percent and 12 percent of the school’s population, have historically entered and left ETHS with lower testing scores than those of white students.

To find out why, the school paid $10,000 to the Pacific Educational Group in January to conduct a “needs assessment” regarding racial inequity at the school. Consultants met with more than 200 students, teachers, administrators and parents in focus groups as part the study.

By examining standardized test scores, the study determined a class does not become any more equitable over its life – in other words, the achievement gap persists from freshman year to senior year. ACT scores suggest the situation has not improved over the last five years. Last year’s gap was just as big as this year’s.

The report cites several factors behind such a persistent problem. Much of the inequity, the consultants suggest, has to do with ETHS teachers.

“Students of color …shared an acute awareness that many teachers do not expect them to achieve at high levels,” the report said.

In addition, some teachers reportedly do not respond well to the culture of minority students and do not consistently reach out to students to check on their development.

School Board Vice President Rachel Hayman said there have been concerns that the report was too inflammatory.

The assessors received criticism in the Lodi Unified School District in California – which recently ended its contract with the consultants – for placing too much blame on teachers.

“Teachers are doing the best they can under impossible circumstances,” wrote Lodi News-Sentinel columnist Joe Guzzardi. “Don’t add to their burden by subjecting them to sensitivity trainings that are a waste of time and scarce taxpayer money.”

To Evanston Teachers’ Council President David Futransky, though, the report only described perceptions expressed by focus group participants.

The report suggested the school train its staff to have professional, objective discussions about race, a topic often complicated by emotion.

“There is a lot of baggage that you bring to the table when you enter these discussions,” Futransky said.

The school district may hire Pacific Educational Group to conduct that training, Hayman said.

“We’re going to embark on some professional development for staff, teachers, board members, in order to get some tools to embark on these types of conversations,” she said.

The school’s first step will be to form a leadership team from ETHS teachers and administrators to determine the school’s racial equity goals, Futransky said. The consultants also recommend the appointment of a “district equity coordinator” to direct those goals.

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