Some McHenry County public school students are performing far better than their peers statewide, while other local school districts struggle to improve test scores.
The Illinois State Board of Education released its 2017 Report Card data Tuesday, and, in general, it showed increases in school district test scores across the county despite recent statewide changes.
ISBE provided media outlets, including the Northwest Herald, with preliminary data before Tuesday’s release. The data used in this article and related graphics may change before the official release Tuesday.
The information shows wide disparities in student performances at school districts with vastly different students and teachers.
Elementary and middle schools throughout the county continued to take the PARCC exam this past year, which measures students’ readiness through language and math tests. High schools switched from the ACT to the SAT this past spring, however. Local district officials have mixed feelings about the change.
Many referred to 2017 as the “baseline year” for the test, and said that they were unsure of the results, but were optimistic.
“We never know what the scores are going to be, and since we went from ACT to SAT, there’s some unknown there,” Richmond-Burton School District 157 Superintendent Tom Lind said. “The SAT is a little different; it’s taken Illinois and people like us a little time to get used to it.”
Huntley School District 158 Assistant Superintendent Erika Schlichter said it will be important for county districts to collaborate on how best to prepare students for the new test.
In McHenry, officials at School District 156 fully approved of the switch.
“We feel strongly that the SAT is a better indicator of college and career readiness than the PARCC exam,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Carl Vallianatos said in an email.
The Northwest Herald averaged the new SAT scores with PARCC and Dynamic Learning Maps (designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities) data from county districts that do not need to take the SAT to show how they measure up against one another in regard to readiness for the next grade. PARCC scores show how many students met or exceeded expectations. Those who met or exceeded expectations likely are to be on track for the next grade level and ultimately for college and career readiness, according to ISBE.
“We’re moving to an era where it’s not just sorting and ranking [districts] to punish, but literally who’s doing well so that we can learn from them,” Illinois State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said.
Richmond-Burton District 157 is at the top of the list. There are about 700 students in the district, and the state board considers 56.75 percent of students as meeting or exceeding the state standard, according to the preliminary data.
“What we’re seeing is what we knew we could get to if we put the work in,” Lind said.
School districts take the largest chunk of local property taxes. School districts’ test scores can affect property values.
The state considered 33 percent of Illinois students ready for the next school year based on PARCC data on average, and 46 percent ready for college on average from the 2016 data.
Teachers work to create personal learning opportunities for students, and that customizing has helped faculty focus on more specific needs. Test scores are one way to illustrate students’ success, but Lind said the district tries to take referrals for discipline, numbers of college attendees and school climate into account as well.
Community High School District 155 was a percentage point behind District 157 on the Northwest Herald’s averaged composite score. Assistant Superintendent Scott Shepard called the data a “snapshot” of how students perform. Shepard said he felt good about the district’s direction. The district which Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central, Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove high schools.
“We need to make sure we’re identifying students that need additional support,” Shepard said. “We want to meet students where they’re at and challenge them to improve.”
Huntley District 158 is next with 52.15 percent of its students considered meeting or exceeding state standards.
The district, which includes elementary schools as well as Huntley High School, likes to look at students more broadly than just their test scores, Schlichter said.
“We look at how our students are collaborating in a 21st century manner,” Schlichter said.
This includes taking a look at work and learning habits, time management skills and students’ interests outside the classroom. Schlichter said that, when district officials see improvements in the overall scores, they’re happy, but strive to individualize the numbers.
“[We] want to make sure no student gets lost just because scores across the board are going up,” Schlichter said.
She also cited the personalized learning technique Lind said is employed in his district and the number of career-related opportunities District 158’s high school has started to employ.
Crystal Lake School District 47 falls in the middle of the list with 45.1 percent of its students considered meeting or exceeding the standard. In 2016, the district had 45.3 percent. In an email, spokeswoman Denise Barr said the district’s 2017 PARCC data may not be correct, however.
“It has come to our attention that there was an upload error in our student demographic information for PARCC, which may skew some of the original data released,” Barr said. “ISBE communicated to us today that the error will be corrected for the official release of data on Tuesday. Due to the error, we are not comfortable commenting on the scores until this has been corrected.”
The interactive, searchable Illinois State Report Card should be accurate Friday, Smith said.
The data for McHenry District 156 shows 37.4 percent of the district’s students are considered ready. Officials from District 156 declined to comment on students’ scores specifically but said it pushes students to excel through rigorous courses, including honors and AP, in a statement.
The district also encourages students to “strive for multiple graduation honors that extend far beyond just test performance.”
Last year’s District 156 PARCC and DLM scores showed only 26.85 percent of its students were meeting or exceeding state standards – the district increased that number more than 10 percent to 2017.
Woodstock School District 200 is also one that has seen growth in the last few years. Although its current percentage is 32.85 meeting or exceeding standards, Superintendent Michael Moan said it’s important to compare the district’s growth to the state’s average and to itself year after year.
“We definitely have room to grow but we’re definitely happy that the changes we’ve made have seen our scores increase dramatically,” Moan said. “That’s part of our story.”
Harvard School District 50 is last on the list with 13.9 percent of its students considered meeting or exceeding state standards. According to 2016 data, the district previously had 15.7 percent based on PARCC and DLM scores.
District 50 officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Harvard District 50 had 2,518 students, according to data released in 2016. Sixty five percent of district students were considered low income, meaning they were in families getting public aid, living in substitute care or eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches, according to previously released ISBE data. Statewide, the figure is 50 percent; in Richmond-Burton High School District 157, the figure was 13 percent, according to last year’s school report card.
More than 30 percent of Harvard’s students are English learners, meaning their “English proficiency is not yet sufficient to provide the students with the ability to successfully participate and achieve in classroom settings where the language of instruction is English,” according to the report. Twelve percent of Harvard students had disabilities and used Individualized Education Programs compared with 14 percent statewide during the same time frame. About 10 percent of Harvard students were chronically truant.
ISBE collects most report card data directly from school districts through data systems such as the state’s Student Information System throughout the year. The data is meant to “provide a transparent, easy-to-understand picture of public school measures at the school, district and state level,” according to the department’s website.
Smith said there had been “distress” in education statewide because of budget uncertainty, but the new funding formula should ease some concerns.
“We believe districts will have more resources available to help serve children,” Smith said. “I believe deeply that talent is abundant and opportunity is not.”
The full 2017 Illinois State Report card is available Tuesday at www.illinoisreportcard.com.