More students than ever are taking Advanced Placement classes in Community Unit District 300. And more of them than ever are passing the exams.
When it comes to the ACT, which measures college readiness, scores are trending up -- even though in some cases it's just barely.
Also, District 300 graduates are getting more college scholarship money than their predecessors. More of them are finishing high school with career certificates in hand, thanks to districtwide partnerships with higher education institutions. And more of them are staying in college through their second years, compared to regional averages.
The picture isn't all rosy, but in a high school student success report to school board members Monday, Assistant Superintendent Benjamin Churchill found plenty to celebrate.
He told the board not to focus on single data points, like the slight dip in ACT scores this past year. Charts with five-year trends revealed an upward trajectory for District 300 students.
"We have to look at all of it together to paint a broad and detailed picture of what our students are doing," Churchill said. "We always have room to grow but I believe it's a solid foundation."
Dundee-Crown High School's average scores on the ACT lag behind the Hampshire and Jacobs high schools' averages. But the increase in low-income students at Dundee-Crown has far outpaced that of its peer schools.
Almost 60 percent of Dundee-Crown students qualify as low-income, according to the district. That's compared to 18 and 20 percent at Jacobs and Hampshire, respectively.
"The impact that poverty has on our students can't be overstated," Churchill said.
High school students have been encouraged to take more rigorous courses during their final four years of public education. That means taking more than the basic math or science requirements before graduation and adding Advanced Placement courses over the standard curriculum.
Churchill said students who do so end up with higher ACT scores.
The scores themselves seem somewhat wanting in District 300.
Most students across the district -- about 70 percent -- score between 13 and 24 on the ACT. Only the high end of that range is considered college-ready. Almost 30 percent of Hampshire and Jacobs High School students score more than 25 on the 36-point test. But only half that percentage score the same amount at Dundee-Crown.
Churchill, though, emphasized growth. Across all three high schools, students show improvement from 8th grade, when they take a modified version of the test, to their junior year when it is required as part of the state exams.
"That," Churchill said, "is as important."