ETHS “detracking” curriculum changes hot topic at school board candidate forum

Edward Cox, Reporter

Three Evanston school board candidates met with residents at an Evanston cafe Sunday to discuss their campaign platforms in an election that will include four hotly contested District 202 seats.

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) said he organized the gathering at Curt’s Cafe, 2922 Central St., partly because four of the eight candidates running for the District 202 school board seats live in his ward.

“There are some innovations that we need to take … to create a challenge for every child,” said Candance Chow, one of four candidates running for four Evanston/Skokie District 65 board seats.

District 202 candidate Gretchen Livingston also appeared at Sunday’s candidate forum.

Livingston, a District 202 incumbent, said she is running for re-election on the “not so sexy” platform focused on a set of three-year goals for the district that she helped draft last spring.

A corporate communications director, District 202 candidate Doug Holt said he is focused on creating strategic plans to improve student performance. There is “no silver bullet” when coming up with solutions, Holt said.

During the question-and-answer period, changes in the high school’s honors program dominated discussion.

In 2010, ETHS school board members approved a plan to “detrack” freshmen humanities courses in order to broaden the variety of students in classes. This school year, the school’s freshmen biology classes changed to an “earned-honors” curriculum similar to the humanities classes.

“It widens the funnel so that we get more students in honors and AP (classes),” Holt said.

On the other hand, Jan Bowers, the parent of an ETHS junior, said she is uncertain about the relevance of diversity in the honors program’s academic standards.

“Both (Districts 65 and 202) have looked for solutions without much success,” Bowers said. “Now what we don’t know is whether that has done anything at all to affect the gap in standardized testing.”

Livingston said the school board did “a miserable job” communicating the curriculum changes to students and parents. She emphasized the need for evaluation to measure the success of the changes. The board is working with David Figlio, director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, to evaluate the curriculum changes.

Still, she emphasized the importance of challenging students rather than only focusing on placement issues.

“We need to care about each and every student, not get hung up about where we are placing them,” Livingston said.

Elections for the District 65 and District 202 school board races, as well as City Council, will be held April 9.