Three local elementary schools received the coveted “exemplary” rating from the Illinois State Board of Education in the state’s recently released school report card.
Hollywood School, Brook Park School and Congress Park School all received the exemplary rating for ranking in the top 10 percent of Illinois public schools.
Schools are ranked on a variety of factors, the most important of which is student growth, meaning the increase in academic achievement year over year rather than the absolute level of student academic performance, as measured on state tests, called the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, every spring.
At Brook Park School, 48.4 percent of students met or exceeded the state standards in English/Language Arts (ELA) this year compared to just 36.5 percent last year. In math, 33.8 percent of Brook Park students met or exceeded state standards in 2022 compared to just 24.8 percent last year.
Another 27.4 percent of Brook Park students approached state standards in math and 25.2 percent did so in reading. Sixty-four percent of Brook Park students in grades three through five met the expected growth target in ELA last year and 59 percent did so in math.
Mike Sorensen, the principal for grades three through five at Brook Park, which is in LaGrange Park and is part of Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, said he was happy the school received an exemplary rating for the first time.
“It’s always an honor to be recognized,” Sorensen said. “We had a very nice amount of student growth in ELA and in math. I know the staff, the students, the parents are all working very hard together to continue that upward trend.”
Sorensen said he expects a new math curriculum, called Everyday Math, implemented this year at Brook Park, will boost math achievement and test scores.
At Hollywood School, which is located in Brookfield and is part of Riverside School District 96, about two-thirds of students met growth targets. In terms of proficiency, 63 percent of Hollywood students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while 47 percent did so in math. In 2021 only 49.2 percent of Hollywood students met or exceeded state standards in ELA and just 40.7 percent did so in math.
Hollywood Principal Kim Hefner, who is currently short-term medical leave recovering from knee replacement surgery, said that Hollywood’s rating is a product of a joint effort of students, teachers, parents and the community.
“Parents, the community, they all have a part in this,” Hefner said. “That’s what makes Hollywood such a special place.”
Hefner lavished praise on her staff and noted that test scores are just a part of education.
“We have such a wonderful team,” Hefner said. “You know it’s so much more than test scores. It’s the love that we give to all of our kids every day. We try to make it a complete package. We really work on trying to develop the whole child.”
The other schools in Riverside Elementary District 96 all were rated “commendable” as was S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield, which is in District 95.
The other Riverside Elementary schools had academic proficiency scores that equaled or exceeded Hollywood. At Central School in Riverside, 65 percent of students met state standards in ELA and 63 percent did so in reading. At Ames School, 61 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA and 57 percent did so in math. At Blythe Park School 63 percent of students met or exceeded the state standards in ELA and 57 percent did so in math.
Congress Park School, located in Brookfield and part of LaGrange-Brookfield District 102, received an “exemplary” rating despite having just 50 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in reading and only 39 percent doing so in math.
But Congress Park students made up a lot of ground last year, with 69 percent meeting growth targets in reading and 58 percent doing so in math.
Educators generally say that while students learned a lot last year, they are still not back to pre-pandemic levels as more than a year of remote and hybrid learning resulted in significant declines in student learning.
“We are working our way there,” said Angela Dolezal, the director of teaching and learning in District 96.
Lincoln School, which is located in Brookfield and part of Lyons-Brookfield School District 103, received a “commendable” rating despite only 13 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in ELA and just 17 percent doing so in math.
But Lincoln students did better on growth metrics, with 64 percent meeting expected growth in math and 51 percent doing so in ELA.
Educators often have a complicated relationship with state-mandated tests, saying they are an imperfect and imprecise measure of learning, but they know that some people judge them on their rankings.
“If they’re going to give these honors, we’re never going to turn it down,” Sorensen said.