6 area schools achieve 'exemplary' marks on state's 2018 report card


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Six area schools, including two in the Monticello district, are among the top performing in the state, according to the 2018 Illinois report card released today.

Monticello High School and White Heath Elementary, Prairieview-Ogden Junior High, St. Joseph Middle School, Bismarck-Henning Elementary and Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary all received an "exemplary" designation, the highest of four descriptors of how well the school is meeting students' needs based on 10 measures of performance.

Monticello Superintendent Vic Zimmerman attributes the schools' success to two things:

"I think we have very supportive families who have high expectations for their kids, and we have very hard-working teachers who have high expectations for their kids," Zimmerman said. "We always have had high expectations for academics for our students all the way from K through 12. And when the teachers and the parents and the schools are all in harmony, kids strive to meet them."

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the exemplary designation identifies the highest-performing 10 percent of schools, while the lowest-performing designation identifies the lowest-performing five percent of schools.

Seven area schools, including two in Danville and Urbana, received the "lowest performing" designation — South View Upper Elementary and Meade Park Elementary in Danville; Preston Williams and Wiley elementaries in Urbana; Eastlawn Elementary in Rantoul; and Hoopeston and DeLand-Weldon middle schools.

Schools that are otherwise well-performing but have one or more student groups significantly under-performing received the under-performing designation.

The handful of area middle and junior high schools receiving that designation included Edison, Jefferson and Franklin in Champaign; North Ridge in Danville; Urbana Middle School; J.W. Eater in Rantoul; and Westville Junior High.

The other area schools that did were all elementaries — Garden Hills, Washington and South Side in Champaign; Edison and Mark Denman in Danville; DeLand-Weldon; Pine Crest in Georgetown; Yankee Ridge in Urbana; Judith Giacoma in Westville; and Broadmeadow, Northview and Pleasant Acres in Rantoul.

All other schools in Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties received a commendable designation, given to about 70 percent of those in the state.

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"The good news is the state of Illinois is now looking at schools in a three-dimensional manner rather than strictly by test scores," said Beth Yacobi, Danville schools' assistant superintendent of secondary education. "They took an approach to look at the whole child."

But "I don't believe it's an overall stamp of that school," she said of the designation, also pointing out that the weight given to some indicators will change, so the designations can change.

"Are there areas we still need to work on? Absolutely," Yacobi continued. "We need all of our kids to be 4s and 5s (levels showing students met and exceeded expectations, respectively), no doubt. But we also know we have the pieces in place that are having an impact on student learning and helping students become college- and career-ready, and we'll continue to work on them until we maximize all students' learning potential."

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Here are some other highlights of the report card:

— High schools with the highest four-year graduation rate include Tuscola (98.6 percent), Monticello (97.5), Arcola (97.4), Heritage (97), Arthur (96.9), Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin (96.7) and Oakwood and Salt Fork (both 95.6).

While Danville had the lowest graduation rate, with only 75.3 percent graduating, Yacobi pointed out it increased "significantly" from 70.9 percent in 2017.

— Schools with the most ninth-graders on track to graduate were Salt Fork (100 percent) and Georgetown-Ridge Farm (98). Close behind were Arcola, Bement and Gibson City-Melvin Sibley (95); Mahomet-Seymour, Monticello and Tuscola (93); Oakwood and Armstrong Township (92); and Fisher and St. Joseph-Ogden (91).

— In English/language arts, the top scores came from Prairieview-Ogden, where 61.7 percent of students met or exceeded benchmarks; St. Joseph-Ogden High (57.5), Monticello (56.8) and Bismarck-Henning (56.7).

— In math, the top scores came from St. Joseph-Ogden High, where 55 percent met or exceeded standards; Prairieview-Ogden (52.7) and St. Joseph Grade School (52).

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— Danville was toward the top when it came to teacher compensation, with the average pay last year being $54,446. It was a tad higher at the new Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin Cooperative High School ($54,536) and a tad lower in the St. Joseph Grade School district ($54,229).

— As for administrators, the highest pay on average was given in the St. Joseph Grade School district ($125,130) followed by Gifford ($119,173), Prairieview-Ogden ($118,705), BHRA ($110,202) and GCMS ($110,114).

The lowest-paid administrators worked at Villa Grove ($73,067 average), Georgetown-Ridge Farm ($74,215), Oakwood ($74,467) Salt Fork ($74,706) and Hoopeston Area ($75,572).

— The majority of area districts spent between $4,800 to $7,500 per pupil for instruction purposes last year.

Topping that range were Deland-Weldon ($7,601), Rantoul Township High ($7,653), Urbana ($8,194), Armstrong Township ($7,744) and Armstrong-Ellis, which spent about $11,207 on each of its 73 students.

Slight changes in report card welcomed

SPRINGFIELD — Last redesigned in 2013 to be more "user-friendly," the Illinois State Board of Education's report card didn't exactly undergo a makeover in 2018, but much of how things are presented this time around differs from previous years.

On the surface, there are at least three new online features for this year's Report Card: a summary dashboard page; what the state calls "summative designations" for each school; and a measurement of each school's "distance from adequate funding." Of the three, the "summative designation" is the most important, as it exemplifies ISBE's attempts to use a "fuller set of metrics" when assessing schools across the state.

Such a method didn't come out of nowhere: ISBE points to President Barack Obama's signing of the "Every Student Succeeds Act" in 2015 as the reason summative designations now function as the "primary mechanism" for school accountability.

Summative designation — a new "descriptor of how well the school is meeting the needs of all students," according to ISBE — comes in four categories: exemplary, commendable, under-performing and lowest-performing.

"Exemplary" schools have no under-performing student groups and perform within the top 10 percent statewide. "Commendable" schools also have no under-performing groups, but didn't make the top 10 percent. "Under-performing" schools have at least one student group performing at or below the "all students group" of the lowest 5 percent of the state's Title 1 schools, while schools in the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title 1 schools, as well as high schools with graduation rates dipping below 67 percent, receive a "lowest-performing" designation.

The terms might sound loaded, but state Superintendent Tony Smith said the use of summative designations is "in fact, evidence-based."

Use of the labels also indicates a shift from the state toward assessing students and schools on a more complete measure than just assessment scores and proficiency levels, he added.

"The core of this move has been around growth," he said. Previously, "this was around whether students were proficient or not, and that did not fully represent the work of families, educators and students."

Area educators agree. Both Unit 4 Superintendent Susan Zola and Danville Aassistant Superintendent Beth Yacobi describe the change as a welcome one.

This "is a welcome recognition by the state of Illinois, as we have been emphasizing student growth as a significant measure of overall school and district success for many years," Zola said.

ISBE uses an algorithm to rank the schools. First, ISBE collects performance data, such as school graduation rates, testing performance, etc., and converts that into a weighted score before finally calculating rankings. Reflecting the state's commitment to a growth-oriented perspective, data on student growth is the most heavily weighted at 50 percent for both the K-8 and grades 9-12 levels. It's collected by averaging student growth percentiles — or how a student grew academically in comparison to peers who started at the same level — in English and math.

"Proficiency shows whether or not students have mastered a common, high standard; whereas growth recognizes progress toward and beyond the standard, no matter where each student started," ISBE stated.

No other indicators are weighted as heavily as growth; the second-highest indicator of school or district success, according to ISBE, is a four-year graduation rate, worth 30 percent of the rating. Clocking in at 20 percent is the amount of students "chronically absent" — or those who miss 10 percent or more of the previous school year, whether expected or not. Proficiency in English and math come in at 10 percent of the weighted score. Along with a handful of other indicators, a school's overall data and data for individual student groups is collected for determining summative rankings.

While the rankings, according to ISBE, demonstrate which schools need what kind of supports, Yacobi said she worries the verbiage lends itself to simplistic conclusions.

"It's that designation that people look at," she said.

The under-performance of a single subgroup within an entire school can result in the school receiving the "under-performing" moniker, even if most other groups are still performing. That's what happened in Champaign's Unit 4, in which a district with one "exemplary" school (Carrie Busey) and ten other "commendable" schools saw all three of its middle schools and three elementary schools (Garden Hills, South Side and Booker T. Washington) marked as under-performing due to either students with IEPs or black students not meeting state standards.

But not all is lost: The "under-performing" label also comes with more state financial support. In Unit 4, all schools except Washington will receive $30,000 to improve their standings; Washington will only receive $15,000, due to the state not classifying the school as "under-performing" in an August assessment.

"At those individual campuses we will be sitting down to look at the information around those cohorts and we'll be considering what they say will be needed," Zola said. "The individual campuses know their needs better than anyone else. It could be a mix of programmatic or more resources, professional learning, after-school extended supports — those are sort of the obvious things."

Two positive notes the state pointed at overall are the number of students enrolling in college within a year of graduation, and Advanced Placement exam scoring.

"The 2018 data show the highest percentage of students enrolling in college since Illinois began reporting the metric in 2014," ISBE said. The percentage of students enrolling in college 12 months after graduation increased to nearly three-quarters of all graduates — up from 68.7 percent just four years ago.

The state added that "record numbers of students" both have taken and passed AP exams.

"More than 2,000 additional students took more than 6,500 additional Advanced Placement exams in 2018 compared to in 2017, while maintaining Illinois' high pass rate at approximately 66 percent," ISBE said. "From 2017 to 2018, enrollment in career and technical education increased by more than 6,000 students to 283,473."