Schools in Riverside School District 96 were among the highest performing in the state in 2005, with 88.3 percent of district students meeting or exceeding state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), which is given each spring. Statewide, 69 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT test.
Students in grades 3, 5 and 8 were tested in reading and math, while students in grades 4 and 7 were tested in science. The tests are used by the Illinois State Board of Education to determine compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which requires school districts to make progress in raising student proficiency in core subjects or face sanctions from the State Board of Education. Sanctions could include everything from allowing students the choice of transfer to a different school within the district to state takeover of the school district.
Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Lamberson said that while the tests are an important indicator of educational excellence, he said they were just one measure.
"They've received a lot of attention because of the [NCLB] mandate, and the ease of sorting and ranking, but the reality is that it's a one-time snapshot of the district," Lamberson said. "This shouldn't be singular evidence of the academic or educational health of the district.
"You don't want to get into a position like Florida or Texas, where you create a curriculum to serve the needs of the test."
Overall, the district's third-graders were well above state norms in reading and math, with 90 percent of third-graders meeting or exceeding standards in reading and 94 percent in math. In fifth grade the scores were similar, with 84 percent meeting state goals in reading and 93 percent reading state standards in math.
Likewise in eighth grade, students met or exceeded state standards in reading by a rate of 88 percent. Math scores were a bit lower at 76 percent but were comparable to last year's 78 percent and well above the state mark, where 54 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded standards.
Science scores were also high, with 95.5 percent of fourth-graders and 90 percent of seventh-graders meeting or exceeding state standards in that area.
District 96 also fared well in two of its larger sub-groups of students?"special education and Hispanic students.
Hispanic students, who made up 12.5 percent of all students taking the ISAT, scored at district-wide levels, with 85.7 percent of Hispanic students meeting or exceeding state standards in reading and 92.8 percent in math.
Students with learning disabilities, who comprised, 11.5 percent of the total student population, scored near or above state averages, with 61 percent meeting the state mark in reading and 69 percent in math.
"Our numbers for special education are incredibly strong," Lamberson said. "For 70 percent of our special education students in third grade to meet or exceed state standards? It's phenomenal how successful our program is for special education students. Our special education students perform nationally. Our job is to find out how we can maintain the excellence and improvement."
Special education plays a prominent role in the district's long-term plan. With approximately 140 special education students in the district, Lamberson said that the program needs "some specialized administrative support."
"We're looking at 140 students," Lamberson said. "That number is larger than two of our schools. We're at a point now where we have to make sure we address the needs of students and improve the program."
Top scores: Hollywood, Blythe Park
Looking at specific schools within Dist. 96, those scoring highest on the ISAT in 2005 were Blythe Park in Riverside and Hollywood in Brookfield.
For the second consecutive year, just over 94 percent of Blythe Park students met or exceeded state standards overall. Moreover, 100 percent of third-graders and fifth-graders met or exceeded state marks in math. Meanwhile, 100 percent of fourth-graders at Blythe Park met or exceeded state standards in science.
At Hollywood School, 95 percent of students met or exceeded overall state standards, with 100 percent of fourth-graders meeting state standards in science and 100 percent of fifth-graders meeting them in math.
The percentage of students meeting or exceeding overall state standards on the ISAT test at District 96's other schools are: Ames School, 86 percent; Central School, 91 percent; Hauser Junior High, 84 percent.