By Bob Skolnik
Five area schools received the highest rating possible in the most recent school report cards issued by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
L.J. Hauser Junior High School, S.E. Gross Middle School, Brook Park Elementary School, Central School and Hollywood School all received the top rank of "exemplary" issued by the ISBE.
Only the highest-performing 10 percent of public schools in the state are given the exemplary designation in the revamped school report cards, which were issued last week.
All other local schools received the next highest ranking of "commendable" which was given to approximately 70 percent of the public schools in Illinois.
This year in response to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act which has replaced the old No Child Left Behind law, the state revamped the school report card to emphasize student growth -- how much a student improves from year to year -- over the old system, which only measured how students did compared to set benchmarks of achievement.
At elementary and middle school level, 50 percent of a school's score is now based on growth and only 20 percent is based on proficiency. Previously proficiency was the only thing that mattered. Another 20 percent of a school's score was based on absenteeism rates this year and will be based on wider measures of school climate in the future.
"The opportunity to use growth looks at the individual student over time and then compares like scores over time," said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith in a recent telephone conference call with reporters. "Growth is less tied to some of the pre-existing demographics."
Most local educators also seem to like the change in emphasis.
"I think that's been missing for a long time," said Brian Ganan, the superintendent of Komarek District 94.
Both schools in Brookfield LaGrange District 95, S.E. Gross and Brook Park, received the coveted exemplary designation despite being funded at what the state considers at only an 80 percent level of adequacy and having average teacher salaries that are somewhat below the state average.
"Some of the changes with the new reporting does highlight something that I think our district does very well, and that's focusing on the climate and culture of our building, because that's reflected in our high retention of teachers," said Cathy Cannon, the Director of Teaching and Learning for District 95.
Cannon also said that the stability of the administrative team at District 95 has helped and that the emphasis on student growth helped District 95.
"We don't always start with all the highest scores, but we focus a lot on data and providing whatever programing and support all students need to so that they show growth," Cannon said.
In District 95 as a whole, 56 percent of students tested in third through eighth grade met or exceeded state standards in English language arts (ELA) while another 28 percent approached those standards. Statewide only 37 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA.
Students in third through eighth grade were tested last spring.
In math, 37 percent of District 95 students met or exceeded state standards compared to 32 percent statewide while another 28 percent approached state standards.
Based on raw test results, Riverside Elementary School District 96 was the top performing elementary district in the area. Three of the five schools in District 96 received the exemplary rating and the two that did not, Ames and Blythe Park, came close.
"I know that we missed it [at Ames and Blythe Park] by less than four points," said District 96 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Merryl Brownlow.
In District 96 as whole, 69 percent of students met or exceeded standards in ELA while 19 percent approached state standards.
In math, 62 percent of District 96 students met or exceeded state standards in math while another 23 percent approached state standards.
District 96 had the highest percentage of students exceeding state standards in the area, with 18 percent doing so in ELA and 15 percent doing so in math.
"We had significant growth in ELA and math in the percentage of students that were proficient," Brownlow said.
Brownlow was proud of other gains in the district, including going from 44 percent of Hispanic students being proficient in ELA to 57 percent in 2018. The percentage of low-income students meeting state standards in ELA jumped from 36 percent in 2017 to 48 percent in 2018.
"That's a huge jump," Brownlow said.
District 96 has completely revamped its curriculum in the last few years to make it more rigorous, and the changes are paying off, according to Brownlow.
At Komarek School, which also received a commendable rating, 41 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while another 31 percent approached state standards. In math, 32 percent of Komarek students met or exceeded state standards, but an additional 33 percent of students approached the state standards.
In Lyons School District 103 both Lincoln Elementary School and George Washington Middle School received commendable rankings.
At Lincoln School, 24 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA, which was actually a bit lower than 2017. But another 35 percent of students approached state standards in 2018, compared to 28 percent in 2017. At GWMS the numbers were nearly identical.
In math, 16 percent met or exceeded state standards in 2018 and 31 percent approached state standards. In 2017, 19 percent met standards and 34 percent approached math standards.
Home School in Stickney was rated as "exemplary" in District 103.
Congress Park School in southwest Brookfield also received a commendable rating. There 44 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while another 26 percent approached state standards.