Concern over stagnant RBHS test scores

Administrators challenge board's basis for district comparison

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

A member of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education expressed his frustration last week at what he described as stagnant test scores at the school.

Board member Tim Walsh challenged Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Lindquist at the board's Sept. 26 meeting, during which Lindquist presented a report about test scores and said that RBHS was improving in every single area.

"We can't say the trend is improving, because that is not what the trend is," Walsh shot back.

The RBHS Class of 2017 achieved an average composite ACT of 22.6. That was an improvement from the 22.1 score of the Class of 2016, but it's also identical to the 22.6 recorded by the Class of 2012 and down from the 23.3 achieved by the Class of 2013. The class of 2010 racked up a 23.0 average ACT score.

The average ACT score in Illinois is 21.4.

"We don't seem like we're improving," Walsh said. The score this year, as in previous years, fell far short of the board's ambitious, some would say unrealistic, goal of achieving an average ACT composite test score of 26. That goal was set by the board in 2012.

"That was the average of the top 10 public schools in the state," said Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. "They were trying to set a lofty goal for the administration."

School board President Garry Gryczan, who shares Walsh's frustration with stagnant ACT scores, defended the goal of an average ACT score of 26.

"We believe the people in this district want the high school to perform comparable to the elite schools, and we're trying to incentivize the administration to look at ways to get those scores up," Gryczan told the Landmark. 

However, administrators said that board should not compare RBHS to schools like Hinsdale Central, whose students have a different socioeconomic profile than RBHS. They said RBHS scores should be compared to scores at Hinsdale South High School, a school with a substantial number of low-income and minority students.

"Hinsdale South is very similar to our demographic," Lindquist said.

The Class of 2016 at Hinsdale South achieved a composite ACT score of 22.1, while Hinsdale Central students averaged a 26.6 ACT score.

In the 2015-16 school year, the last year official figures are available, 16 percent of RBHS students were classified as low-income, 33 percent were Hispanic, 5.6 percent were black, 2.6 percent were mixed race, and 1.8 percent were Asian.

At Hinsdale South, 30 percent of students were classified as low-income, 20.3 percent were black, 11.3 percent were Hispanic, 10.2 percent were Asian, and 2.7 percent were mixed race.

By contrast only 6 percent of Hinsdale Central students were low-income. Enrollment was 73 percent white, 15.5 percent Asian, 5.3 percent Hispanic, and 2.6 percent black.

Walsh was frustrated that hiring additional teachers in recent years to reduce class sizes, which had increased after the defeat of a tax referendum in 2011, didn't seem to improve test scores.

"It's not accomplished what we thought it would accomplish," said Walsh of the reduction in class sizes. "It doesn't appear to be producing the result that we thought it would."

Lindquist noted that about one third of incoming freshmen enter RBHS with below-grade level test scores, making it difficult to move them to above average ACT scores when they are juniors.

"We are educating the students that are coming to us," Lindquist said.

Principal Kristin Smetana said it is difficult to make big changes in an average ACT test for an entire school. Lindquist and Smetana also noted that RBHS students come from three distinct middle schools with different curriculums and different demographics.  

"We have no control over the students that come to us or what curriculum they receive or how ready they come to us," Lindquist said.

The school board had asked for results broken down by feeder schools and the results indicated that students who came to RBHS from L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside performed the best on the ACT.

RBHS students in the Class of 2017 who graduated from Hauser had an average composite ACT score of 23.7. Students who went to S.E. Gross Middle School compiled an average ACT composite score of 23.0, while students who attended Komarek School in North Riverside averaged 21.4 on the ACT.

Administrators said the focus should be on student growth; on that measure RBHS is doing well, they said. They also pointed to improvements on Advanced Placement exam results. 

According to information provided by the administration, 78.1 percent of RBHS students who took an AP test attained at least one score of 3 or above, a six year high. Three is the lowest score that receives college credit. 

RBHS had 44 more AP students last year than the year before, and RBHS students took 101 more AP exams than the year before. Sixty-eight percent of the AP exams taken by RBHS students last year received a passing grade.

The pass rate for students taking AP European History increased by 17 percent last year, but Smetana said that because of the small sample size it was impossible to say if a teacher change was a cause of the improved pass rate.

AP English Literature and Composition also had its highest pass rate since 2012 and a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

 "The class of 2017 had a really good year," said Skinkis. "We're doing some good things. We need to take it to the next level."

The class of 2017 at Lyons Township High School had an average ACT composite score of 24.1. 

This coming year both RBHS and LTHS will, along with the rest of the state, will be giving juniors both the ACT and the SAT, which has replaced the ACT as the state-mandated test in Illinois. 

Gryczan said that he will push for an ambitious SAT goal.

"The board has not discussed this yet," Gryczan said. "As a personal opinion I would say, yes, we still look to have stretch goals out there."

Reader Comments

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Mikhail Hike from North Riverside  

Posted: October 9th, 2017 3:12 PM

Perhaps Walsh should consider looking at more longitudinal data such as the number of students attending colleges, trade schools, meaningful employment etc. Do the test scores really matter if we cannot gauge their effectiveness in helping students obtain university placement, trade school attendance or meaningful work? Or is this board going to pander to "teaching to the test" and further limit our educators in developing the community's adolescent population? Placing so much emphasis on standardized test scores places unwarranted stress on these students, creates rigidity of curriculum, and takes away from fluidity of thought which is arguably an important part of education. I appreciate the previous commenters suggestions for lowering classroom sizes and spending more time with children rather than increasing an arbitrary standardized test score.

Lisa Kay  

Posted: October 8th, 2017 1:42 PM

Oops, 23.3 was the class of '13. The class of '15 was 24.3.

Lisa Kay  

Posted: October 8th, 2017 1:36 PM

I'm wondering why the average test score from the class of 2015 wasn't included? It was 23.3, the highest of all of those mentioned.

Martha Carlson  

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 8:21 PM

It's surprising that RBHS Board of Education member Tim Walsh believes class sizes have been going down. It's true that teachers have been hired but those hires have not had an impact on average class size. Prior to 2012, going back to at least 2007, the average class size fluctuated very little--between 19 to 21 students. That all changed in 2012, when class sizes jumped to 23.2 and they have increased on an almost yearly basis. In 2015, average class size was 24.3 and, according to the school's own website, the average academic class size last year was 26.2. I don't know what the class size is this year but I've been told by one administrator that it is around 25. Since this article is comparing RBHS to Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South, their class sizes in 2016 were 19.6 and 21, respectively, while the state average is 21.1. It is possible that with a concerted effort to reduce class sizes to the state average, we would see test scores that are not going in the wrong direction as well as more successful students in general.

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