By Bob Skolnik
Three Riverside District 96 schools were rated "exemplary" by the Illinois State Board of Education in the 2018-19 Illinois School Report Cards that were released last week.
L.J. Hauser Junior High School, Blythe Park Elementary School and Hollywood School all receive received the coveted ranking, which means that they were among the top 10 percent of all public schools in Illinois and that no student subgroups ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state.
It was the second straight exemplary ranking in the two years that the new rating system for Hauser and Hollywood. Blythe Park School earned the exemplary ranking for the first time this year.
The schools in District 96 that did not receive the exemplary ranking were rated as "commendable," which means that no student group ranked in the bottom 5 percent, but that overall performance was not in the top 10 percent of all public schools in the state.
About 75 percent of the public schools in the state were rated as commendable.
The ratings are based on a formula that includes students' performance on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness Test which has replaced, but is similar to, the old PARCC Exam.
Fifty percent of a school score's score is determined by student improvement over the course of the year in math and reading, while 15 percent of the score is determined by raw proficiency in math and reading.
Five percent of the score is determined by the state's new science test, while 20 percent of the score is determined by the school's rate of chronic absenteeism and 5 percent is based on the school's rating on a climate survey.
The final 5 percent of a school's score is based on the performance of students who are not native English speakers of English.
Blythe Park had the strongest overall academic performance, with 81 percent of Blythe Park students meeting or exceeding state standards in English Language Arts (ELA), 64 percent doing so in math and 91 percent being rated as proficient in the new Illinois Science Assessment.
Thirty-one percent of Blythe Park students exceeded the state standard in reading while 50 percent met it. Blythe Park students also improved more in both math and ELA than did their counterparts in the district's other elementary schools.
"I am sincerely proud of Blythe Park's exemplary ranking," Principal Casimira Gorman said in an email. "Blythe Park School is a truly wonderful and nurturing learning community."
Hollywood students scored lower in ELA than did their counterparts at the district's other three elementary schools but outperformed the other schools in math.
Sixty-four percent of Hollywood students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while 67 percent did so in math. At most schools, scores are much higher in ELA than in math. Eighty-two percent of Hollywood students were rated as proficient in science.
"I know that we emphasized math last year," said Hollywood Principal Kim Hefner who began his career as junior high school ELA teacher. "We started doing guided groups with more focused and targeted instruction."
Compared to students in the rest of the state, Hollywood students actually made greater improvements last year in ELA than math despite scoring higher in math than ELA. Hollywood students had the second highest percentage of growth in ELA in the district, behind only Blythe Park.
Hollywood School was the only school in District 96 that received the highest rating for effective leadership in the Five Essentials survey about school climate, which is filled out by teachers, parents, and fourth- and fifth-graders.
At Central School, which dropped from exemplary ranking to commendable this year, 72 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while 61 percent did so in math. Seventy-six percent of Central students were rated proficient in science.
At Ames School, 71 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while 61 percent did so in math and 78 percent were rated proficient in science.
District 96 Director of Teaching and Learning Angela Dolezal said that she thought it was just a coincidence that the district's two small elementary schools earned exemplary ratings this year while the larger elementary schools were only rated as commendable.
She noted that last year the larger schools in District 96 had higher test scores than the smaller schools.
"I think that with all data, with all assessments, it's going to depend on cohorts of students and who we're working with that particular year, that particular day that we're assessing that particular time," Dolezal said.
Dolezal also said the differences in the raw scores among the district's four elementary schools were not that great.
"The range between exemplary and commendable with our schools is not that large," Dolezal said. "It's really a small percentage point of difference. They're all still very high performing."
At Hauser, 75 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA while 55 percent did so in math and 81 percent were rated as proficient in science.
Overall in District 96, ELA scores increased by four points in 2018-20 while math scores declined by four points, with 73 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in ELA while 58 percent did so in math.