Timber Trails Elementary School in Elgin Area School District U-46 achieved a rare feat this year: it got a passing grade from the state one year after failing to do so.
Only 40 schools throughout the suburbs were able to do that in 2010, out of almost 600.
Statewide, the reverse is more common: failing after a year of success, as defined by the state.
"I don't think it's anything magical," sixth-grade teacher Ann Parish said of Timber Trails' success. "We had an opportunity in the last year or two to sit down and look at data. Not only did this help the (limited English) kids, it helped all kids."
Principal Tom Flanigan, who opened the Hoffman Estates school in 2004, said the school's efforts to celebrate diversity, use data and increase parent involvement have created a learning atmosphere in which students feel they can succeed.
"We have a common vision," Flanigan said. "We want to reach every single student. ... Kids acquire the attitude that 'I can do this.'"
The school hosts an annual multicultural night and students study literature from varied cultural traditions to reinforce appreciation for different cultures including a student's own background.
"We've always been a very diverse building," Flanigan said. "All of us view that as a strength. ... What we've tried to do is be as inclusive as possible."
Spring results on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test show Timber Trails made significant gains in closing the achievement gap that separates Hispanic students and those with Limited English Proficiency from their white peers.
Reading scores for Hispanic students improved by about seven percentage points, while limited English students gained 12 points.
Flanigan attributes that success in part to a focus on literacy which the school sees as key to success in other areas as well as increased use of data to assess individual students' needs.
Besides taking the ISAT, students at Timber Trails take the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test three times a year so teachers can gauge their progress; teams of teachers from the same grade level meet weekly to discuss what is and isn't working in the classroom.
"It gives teachers automatic feedback," Parish said of the MAP tests. "It lets us know right away what we're excelling at and what we can improve upon. It changes what we teach from one month to the next."
The final piece of the puzzle is making sure learning continues at home. Teachers invite parents to help in the classroom and urge them to help with homework, take their kids to the library and teach them the importance of reading.
Flanigan's goal is to get a "pass" again next year, a tall task given that 85 percent of students in all groups measured by the state must meet or exceed state standards.
"I don't think there's ever a point at which you can be satisfied," Flanigan said. "Our goal is to continue to move them forward."