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In year of transition, Illinois district report cards lack consequences

East St. Louis students spend about a month without school last fall due to a teacher strike. In this Oct. 1, 2015 file photo students spend their free day outside the school district office.
File photo | Wiley Price | St. Louis American

The Illinois State Board of Education has released its 2016 report cards analyzing how well the state’s public schools are educating its students.

Results from the second year using the standardized test known as PARCC continue to paint a dismal picture: more than 60 percent of students failed to meet state benchmarks in math and English.

According to board of education officials, just 30.5 percent of students statewide met or exceeded proficiency in math, a slight increase from 28.2 percent last year.

The percent of students who were proficient in English dropped to 36.2 percent statewide in 2016 from 37.7 percent in 2015.

“We’re not where we want to be,” said John Barker, the data analyst in charge of compiling the report cards for the state board of education. “And in terms of owning that challenge, what we actually have would be a data diagnostics system if you will with PARCC that actually gives us clarity into that.”

Barker characterized the overall Illinois report card as an example of “impressive stability in a situation where fiscal instability has basically been the theme.”

K-12 education was the one segment of the state budget approved by Governor Bruce Rauner ahead of the 2015-2016 school year.

Other notable highlights in the 2016 report card include a slight increase in student attendance and a slight decrease in the dropout rate.

The 2016 report card also shows that more than half of Illinois high school seniors are unprepared for college and career, as measured by scoring a 21 or higher on the ACT.

Metro East

Regional superintendents of education for St. Clair and Madison Counties said their schools with historically poor academic performance are showing signs of improvement.

Madison, Venice, East St. Louis, Cahokia and Brooklyn are all “priority” schools, receiving state support to help improve academics.

“When you go into classrooms and you see the work that students are doing and what they are achieving in other ways than test scores I think you’d be very pleased to see that we are making progress,” said Susan Sarfaty, St. Clair County regional superintendent.  

Bob Daiber, regional superintendent for Madison County, praised Venice for receiving a higher proficiency score on PARCC in 2016.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see pretty much that schools, we didn’t have a whole lot of deviation from our scores last year,” Daiber said, adding that the PARCC tests are still too new to judge what a good score is.

“I don’t think we’re quite there at this point to really be making a lot of decisions about the data that’s being presented," Daiber said. “We need another year or two of data before we really begin to use this as a measurement as to how — whether these scores are gaining or whether they are going down.”


Previously, Illinois schools under academic watch had to be restructured if they failed to increase the number of students that passed standardized tests after a certain period of time.

But because Illinois is changing its accountability measures to comply with the federal Every Child Succeeds Act instead of No Child Left Behind, this year’s test results won’t come with consequences.

“We are still using the same method of intervention, but we don’t have the sanctions of the old (No Child Left Behind) plan. This year is the transition year, which makes it a little more difficult,” Sarfaty said.

State officials said the new accountability measures will likely put more focus on the growth of individual students.

“[The Every Child Succeeds Act] provides states a great deal more space, and allows districts to make wise decisions on the part of their educators and their students,” said Jason Helfer, Illinois deputy superintendent for teaching and learning.

Helfer said Illinois will likely also shift resources to improve academic performance at all schools, not just the schools with the lowest test scores.

“Because every district has a lowest five percent of students. And one of the opportunities that we want to take advantage of within ESSA is making sure that we can filter those resources down to the district level so that every student can in fact succeed, so it’s not just a lovely acronym or a rhetorical pillar but really something that is a vision that can be reached,” Helfer said.

Report card data comparing individual schools and districts to statewide data can be found online.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille

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