No more 'failing': New state report card data rates schools, measures students' growth

Schools can be 'underperforming' to 'exemplary,' with emphasis on students' growth

  • Mary Casey works with her fourth-grade class at Algonquin Lakes Elementary School. The Algonquin school is among 23 Kane County schools designated as exemplary by the state's new ranking system in the 2018 Illinois Report Card.

      Mary Casey works with her fourth-grade class at Algonquin Lakes Elementary School. The Algonquin school is among 23 Kane County schools designated as exemplary by the state's new ranking system in the 2018 Illinois Report Card. Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Updated 10/31/2018 10:29 AM

Suburban educators and parents have long lamented inadequate funding for schools struggling to help the neediest students succeed.

Now, they can make a stronger case for resources and funding armed with new data in the 2018 Illinois Report Card released Wednesday.


How schools are graded changed dramatically this year, with the switch to a new statewide accountability and support system shifting the focus away from standardized test proficiency scores. It comes with the promise of more help for schools to improve.

What's changed?

School ratings are among a handful of new features in this year's report card. Among them: average student growth percentiles for English language arts and mathematics showing student improvement from the previous year compared to peers; the second year of results from the statewide administration of the SAT college entrance exam; how much districts received in new evidence-based funding; and the state funding gap to bring schools up to a level of adequacy.

Roughly 92 percent of 620 suburban schools surveyed are performing well enough and don't require more state help, while 8 percent need targeted support, data show.

Schools were designated as exemplary, commendable, underperforming or lowest-performing based on 10 performance measures. Funding and support is tied to schools struggling the most. Of the suburban schools surveyed, 448 schools were labeled as commendable based on measures of academic performance, student growth, school quality and student success, and 121 schools were recognized as exemplary. Then 51 schools were marked as underperforming -- meaning one or more student groups are falling behind.

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None fell in the lowest-performing category that would trigger more comprehensive support from the state.

"The designations are facts, not judgments," State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said. The goal is not to punish schools or rank them as "failing" but rather to dig deeper into where groups of students are not performing as well, he said.

Underperforming or lowest-performing schools must do a needs assessment to receive support from a statewide network of partners. That includes more federal funding, state-provided school support managers, and the school's choice of professional learning partners to work with on improvement.

At first glance, these designations paint a rosier performance picture, considering only one-third of students statewide demonstrated proficiency in English language arts (36.7 percent) and math (31.5 percent) -- a trend mirrored in the suburbs -- on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test administered to third- through eighth-graders last spring.

Highlighting growth

Illinois' new accountability system, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, measures school quality through multiple student success indicators -- includes standardized tests, alternative assessments, academic growth, English language proficiency, science scores, fine arts participation, success on college entrance tests and graduation rates.


It gives more weight to student growth and graduation rates, accounting for 50 percent of how schools were evaluated this year.

Of 527 suburban schools studied, 64 percent scored at or above the average growth percentile of 50 in English language arts and 66 percent in math -- meaning students grew at the same level or better than grade-level peers who started at the same baseline across the state. A growth score of 50 percent is considered average on a scale of 1 to 99.

Growth in English language arts ranged from 18 percent at Central School Programs, an alternative school for special education students in Elgin, to 84 percent at Edgebrook Elementary School in McHenry. Math growth ranged from 25.9 percent at Madison Elementary School in Lombard to 99 percent at Edgebrook in McHenry.

Educators at the state's second-largest school district are figuring out how to use the growth data to drive instruction.

"Growth is a new term in the assessment world," said Laura Hill, director of assessment and accountability for Elgin Area School District U-46, where the average growth percentile for math was 48 percent and 47 percent for English language arts. "We looked at the proficiency model for years. It's a tandem measure we like a lot better. It's a matter of having all educators better understand how does that growth compare between schools, how does the growth of each independent student (compare with peers). It's a new journey for us."

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